Networx billing systems tested

Testing regimen for ordering/billing systems clears the way for agencies to place orders

Reward for early birds

With FTS 2001 Crossover telecommunications contracts rapidly expiring, the General Services Administration has offered to reimburse transition costs for agencies that move quickly to its newer Networx telecom contracts. GSA officials spelled out the terms in a recent memo to agencies.

* Agencies that have made fair opportunity contractor selection decisions by Sept. 30, 2008, will get transition credits, such as reimbursement for new equipment, rewiring or other costs associated with the transition. Fair opportunity refers to the process by which an agency must give all contractors in a multiple-award contract a fair opportunity to be considered for an order placed under that contract.

* GSA advises agencies to set an internal deadline of March 2008 for making fair opportunity decisions. GSA officials recommend the earlier date because of the complexity involved in decisions and extensive work required of agency transition managers and designated Networx representatives who must come up with elements such as baseline inventories and transition strategies.

Source: General Services Administration

As orders from agencies begin to trickle in, the General Services Administration has finished testing the order and billing systems that will support its Networx Universal contracts for telecommunications and data network services. Officials ordered the upfront testing to avoid many of the early problems GSA had with Networx’ predecessor contract, FTS 2001.

GSA expects to complete Operational Support System (OSS) verification testing on Networx Enterprise contracts this month. The Homeland Security and Treasury departments have placed major orders through the Networx Universal contract since testing was completed, officials said.

Meanwhile, vendors and agencies are brokering deals by using both Networx contracts, even through GSA said it would not process Networx Enterprise orders until OSS testing was completed.

To move all agencies from interim FTS Crossover contracts, GSA has offered incentives for agencies to act quickly on their Networx migration plans. GSA officials also have made Networx OSS testing a priority by hiring an outside contractor to monitor the processing of mock orders between agencies and Networx vendors.

GSA did not test the support systems for FTS 2001 and, consequently, had many initial problems with electronic billing, said Karl Krumbholz, director of network services at GSA’s Office of Integrated Technology Services. “Because of that, we had even talked about mandating testing before awarding Networx contracts to the vendors, but we didn’t want to hold up those awards.

Ultimately, we decided that awardees could only process orders and submit invoices after testing was completed,” he said.

GSA worked with Decision/Analysis Partners to develop test cases, said Ray Barber, senior executive and consultant at the Fairfax, Va., company. The tests were designed to stress the vendors’ systems. The company worked with the Networx vendors to verify that each step in the test plan was completed, Barber said.

OSS testing revealed 267 defects, many of which would have caused ordering or billing problems once vendors began delivering Networx services, Barber said.

“All of the serious defects were identified and corrected well ahead of time,” he added. “There were no show-stoppers.”

OSS testing looked for problems in several test case scenarios, such as submitting and processing orders. The testing also checked the accuracy of Networx billing tasks, including generating invoices.

“Mostly, the testing was accomplished the old-fashioned way,” said Chuck Taylor, a Decision/Analysis senior telecom consultant.

The Networx vendors and Decision/ Analysis developed test-case orders and reviewed the results. They entered the orders into the contractor’s Web portal. The test produced notices, inventory records and invoice files that the testers compared against expected results.

GSA instructed carriers to transfer usage information, such as dollar amounts paid for various services, as Exchange Message Interface (EMI) files. EMI is a telecom industry standard developed in the 1980s to provide telecom users and carriers with a common language and basis for settling disputes about service prices and use.

“Networx service records based on EMI record formats were developed in Excel and accommodated many different types of usage, including traditional voice, toll-free, on-net and off-net voice over IP, video and Web conferencing, along with other services,” Taylor said.

Using EMI and structured testing processes, project officials have created a set of repeatable processes that others can use in the future to validate Networx ordering, reporting and other functions, Taylor said.

That testing was necessary given the breadth of Networx services, said Warren Suss, federal networks and information technology analyst at Suss Consulting.

“GSA has de ided to put out a catalog of wide-ranging services — a Sears catalog of network services for the government,” Suss said. “In doing so, the agency has really put its reputation on the line, so they want to make sure the agencies know that things will work as the vendors claim.”

Suss compared the Networx OSS verification testing process to a GSA Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

“We have found the OSS testing process to be extremely beneficial,” Krumbholz said. Now GSA would like to see agencies move swiftly to finalize deals with Networx contractors, he said. “The biggest point we want to emphasize now is the need for the transition process to move rapidly. Agencies need to choose vendors and move along.”


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