Tools for managed network services are coming together

Networx, the upcoming governmentwide acquisition contract for telecommunications, and the Information Technology Infrastructure Line of Business Consolidation effort are poised to push agencies into outsourcing at least some of their networks responsibilities.

And the Interior Department is at the head of the line to benefit from these two programs, said Ed Meagher, the agency’s deputy chief information officer.

“We are getting ready to convert to Networx and we want to buy managed services and IP from it,” Meagher said today at a managed services and continuity of operations (COOP) event in Washington, D.C., sponsored by FCW Events. “This is the future. Networx gives us the opportunity to stop buying circuits.”

Meagher added that the Office of Management and Budget’s IT Infrastructure Line of Business also is a driving force because it pulls agencies out of administrative or back-office work, provides potential savings and lets them focus on mission-critical IT.

OMB estimated that the Line of Business could save agencies 17 percent to 26 percent by consolidating the infrastructure. OMB said it will start with desktop/seat management, which typically refers to the acquisition, deployment and ongoing support of the technology associated with the desktop computing environment, by developing a baseline cost estimate and metrics in 2007.

“OMB’s estimates on savings is the low-hanging fruit,” Meagher said. “Many agencies see managed services as inevitable.”

He said the biggest challenge to moving managed services is developing the contract and learning how to manage expectations of it.

“You should ask the vendor, ‘How much do you love me?’” Meagher said. “You must come to an understanding based on what you are buying that they will be there when you need it, and not just one of several customers in line.”

Service-level agreements must hold contractors’ feet to the fire with severe, seven-figure penalties for not meeting the agreed upon metrics, he added.

“When things go bad, it is usually when a company starts losing money and they lose the flexibility to deal with the inevitable issues,” Meagher said.

He also said IT managers should get support from top executives and explain the importance as it relates to COOP and other important issues.

Jonathan Nguyen-Duy, Verizon Communications’ group manager for business continuity services, said agencies should ask their potential providers whether they are using the same services internally and whether there will be dedicated resources for their agency.

The number of agencies spending on network and communications services rose to $17.2 billion in 2006, and GSA expects the trend to continue at a 5 percent rate in the next four years.

Jim Williams, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, said the government’s move to IP Version 6 and agencies’ focus on mission-critical applications are the main reasons for this growth. Williams said agencies will use more common applications that reside on a shared network instead of building their own infrastructure.

“As we introduce more network services, they become more consolidated and complex,” he said. “Agencies are looking for end-to-end communications, which makes the management of the network more important. The question many agencies have to answer is whether they have the staff and expertise to do all these types of things.”

He added that agencies are just beginning to understand the systems of systems concept.

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