Part 3: Data is key to transition to Networx and beyond

Krumbholz describes data collection as critical to the smoothing the transition to Networx as well as the future transitions

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third installment of a three-part conversation with GSA’s Karl Krumbholz, director of network services at the Federal Acquisition Service.

Networx Transition

When the deadline for agencies to transition to the General Services Administration’s Networx telecommunications contracts from FTS 2001 was still years away, it was easy to dismiss the agency’s urge to hurry as crying wolf.

But eventually the wolf did come, just as sometimes the end really is near. With full transition at likely something less than 25 percent, and fewer than 16 months remaining to transition the other 75 percent, awareness of the need for speed is increasing. The Chief Information Officers Council has tapped Interior Department CIO Sanjeev Bhagowalia to head a group assigned to facilitate the transition; U.S. senators have asked the Office of Management and Budget to take a leadership role in getting it done, senior federal managers are taking note.

Meanwhile, down in the trenches, work continues not only to get this transition done, but also to prepare for the transformation efforts to follow, and for the next transition. Washington Technology contributing editor Sami Lais talked with one of the architects of Networx as well as one of those assigned by GSA to help negotiate agencies’ transition to it, Karl Krumbholz, the Federal Acquisition Service’s director of network services.

Q: A starting point for talking about the transition has been the telecom baseline information, an agency-validated snapshot, based on carrier input and GSA’s invoicing records, on their services under FTS 2001. GSA released the baseline in January 2007. How closely does this represent FTS 2001 contracted services today?

KARL KRUMBHOLZ: It has significantly grown. There were roughly 4.1 million records, and now it’s up around 5.2 million records. It has continued to grow as agencies have ordered service on the current contract.

Q: Is there anything you’re doing with this FTS 2001 information that’s different than what you did during the last transition? Anything that will put you in a better position come the next contract?

KRUMBHOLZ: The reason we’ll be in a better position for the next contract is not because of this, because when this transition is done, we’ll be done with these contracts.

But unlike with our previous contracts, we are capturing data through a service order completion notice, sometimes referred to as a SOCN [pronounced sock-in]. We are capturing the inventory information as agencies have a service implemented and the vendor issues a completion notice that the service is on Networx. Over the life of the contract, as service is ordered, we will register that new information in our new inventory of services on Networx. So for the first time, we’ll have a continuously updated inventory on Networx that we will keep. We won’t depend on the vendors or the agencies to keep it.

It is the responsibility of the agencies to update this information, and they will have the inventory information available to them, but so will we. So everyone will have a current, constantly updated inventory.

Q: So over at Defense, [director of strategic resources planning, network and information integration] Mike Ponti won’t be in such a difficult situation next time, trying to nail down the inventory of services he’s trying to transition from one contract to another?

KRUMBHOLZ: Hopefully true.

Q: But this time, GSA will be helping him with that, reconciling records, finishing up inventory?

KRUMBHOLZ: Yes.

Q: Among the speed bumps slowing inventory efforts — and this is something you’ve talked about — Ponti said that designated agency representatives could and did negotiate directly with carriers for services, and that attempts were made to keep track of those services, but “there are always things out there that you’re not exactly sure of.” So as agencies are trying to define their inventories, those inventories are changing under them?

KRUMBHOLZ: Well, that’s the definition of inventories, in any case. They’re always changing, people are always leaving, coming, moving, changes are always occurring. Any inventory is as of this particular instant in time, especially when you consider how much service there is on these contracts.

Q: GSA recently announced that it’s making infrastructure changes that may affect services, specifically voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, that agencies order. GSA is providing this service under FTS 2001?

KRUMBHOLZ: No, that’s under local service contracts throughout the regions.

Q: What change will that initiative make?

KRUMBHOLZ: GSA has provided traditional switched voice local service to customers across all the regions for a long time, but we know that the environment in the future is going to be VoIP, so gradually we’re coming off what is basically PBX [private branch exchange] service. Agencies can continue to buy Centrex service that’s managed out of a [carrier’s] central office, but we’re getting out of the business of managing PBXes.
Agencies can go either to a carrier’s PBX or central office managed solution, or we can help them go to a VoIP solution. That also can be managed by a central office or there can be some premise-managed VoIP call center.
What we’re trying to do is make the infrastructure available to go to VoIP. First, what we did is ask the carriers to price their VoIP solution. We gave them some general parameters, and they gave us some prices for how they would do it.

When we get to the point where we’re actually going to price out a building, it’ll get more granular, and the prices will be specific to that building. Those prices will be probably better than the general prices.

But by asking them to do it, when agencies ask us: ‘Do you have VoIP?’ we can say, ‘Here it is; here’s the way it’s delivered; here are the prices we have.’ And we can make some general comparison to the prices that were paid on a PBX.

Q: And which contract is this available on?

KRUMBHOLZ: We went with [Networx] Enterprise so everyone could get a shot at it. We’re still negotiating with some of the carriers to get the general solution, but a specific solution can be bid at any time in a statement of work. If an agency wanted to describe what they want and buy the service, they can buy it themselves now.

Q: So this initiative is to get agencies to think in terms of transformation and getting off old technology and onto new?

KRUMBHOLZ: What we’ve found in delivering broadband services — VoIP — is that the key element was the infrastructure in the building.

Say an agency wants to put voice [service] on a network separate from its data network. If the wiring they want to put it on is the 56-Kbps wiring that had supported switched voice service, it won’t work. That wiring can’t handle VoIP.

So we’re looking at PBX buildings and at putting in the robust infrastructure required to move from a PBX voice service to a VoIP managed service all the way to the desktop.

Q: What else is coming? What did I miss?

KRUMBHOLZ: Well, we’ll be working to provide the infrastructure not only for VoIP and teleconferencing but also the requirements associated with smart buildings. We’re really excited about the possibilities.

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