FTS as Wal-Mart?

GSA/FTS Network Services Conference

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Change was the dominant theme at today's opening session of the annual Network Services Conference sponsored by the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service (FTS).

FTS Commissioner Sandra Bates led a panel discussion about recent changes to FTS, changes in the larger technology world, changing political and economic climates and the long-term path FTS needs to take to stay ahead.

NASA's former chief information officer, Paul Strassmann, offered a decisive vision for FTS' future that included comparing the organization to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The allusion grew out of his observation that the dominance of single players such as IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. is coming to an end.

"In the IBM era, AT&T barely played second fiddle. In the IBM era, the computer people were on the left side, the telecom people on the right side and they rarely ever talked," he said. "In the Microsoft era, the computer is the communications center."

The Microsoft era too is winding down, said Strassmann, NASA's special assistant to the administrator for information management. Now, companies and agencies that can assemble solutions from multiple providers will begin to ascend. That "universal integrator" role is one FTS can play, he said.

"The integration will take place through the network," he said. "The network is the computer."

The change also manifests itself in "network-centric warfare," which panelist Lt. Gen Harry Raduege Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said is being ably demonstrated in Iraq.

FTS recently added new services, which Bates touched on in her remarks. It recently awarded Connections, a contract vehicle for "first and last mile" needs. It is adding professional services procurements to its offerings. And the agency is working on a successor contract to FTS 2001 and other vehicles in an effort to consolidate and update procurement.

GSA Administrator Stephen Perry said the agency is "blurring the boundaries" between FTS, its Federal Supply Service arm and its property division.

Strassmann urged even more change, calling for FTS to take on cyber authentication, and oversee a "registry" of Extensible Markup Language definitions for government use, he said. Those and other initiatives would add to FTS' value as an integrator, he said.

And Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart built its success on allowing consumers wide choices of manufacturers and flexibility in choosing the best products for their needs.

"You have to realize that Wal-Mart is the most successful company in the universe that we know of," he said. "Wal-Mart is a systems integrator first and a merchandising company second. FTS should become the integrators of the 21st century."

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