Agencies weigh COOP outsourcing

As agency officials try to craft business continuity plans on tight budgets, many ponder the role and proper level of outsourcing for agencies' continuity of operations (COOP) portfolio.

"You tend to pay a lot for the outsourcing of backup operations, and there is no guarantee you will use it — kind of like insurance," said Abbas Yazdani, president and chief executive officer of Artel Inc., an information technology company. Yazdani and others drive home the need for contingency planning but question the overreliance on the limited pool of major outsourcing vendors available to meet those needs.

New outsourcing options have a certain appeal. For instance, new managed service provider options and creative contract vehicles are emerging to meet some contingency planning needs.

One project that has attracted attention is the Justice Department's Justice Unified Telecommunications Network (JUTNet). It is a managed services contract heavy on business continuity provisions.

JUTNet calls for a two-vendor award to put in place a primary and secondary network. Furthermore, it will be a voice, video and data network that the vendors will build jointly — a move officials hope will create redundancies allowing communications to continue to flow even if part of the network is knocked out. But earlier this year, JUTNet hit a snag. After using the FTS 2001 telecommunications contract to satisfy JUTNet requirements, federal contracting officials had selected AT&T to be the conditional primary contractor on the project. However, a protest from Sprint caused Justice officials to nix the award, and they are now re-evaluating bids, which include proposals from AT&T, Sprint and others.

Meanwhile, government officials are not fully embracing classic outsourcing arrangements, in which an agency would physically shift operations wholesale to a redundant site in the face of disaster, said Daryl Eckard, EDS director for security and privacy professional services.

"We've seen it take off more rapidly in the private sector than in federal, state or

local" agencies, he said.

Apparently, strategies for building server-based networks that span disparate sites are much more appealing to government officials.

"This way, an agency can manage production across sites, and if they lose one, there are still the others for use during emergency," said Chris Alvord, CEO of COOP Consulting LLC. "Agencies are realizing they don't have to have a hot site unless they

really want one."

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