NASA considers course correction for its outsourcing

Managers of the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA are reviewing the 4-year-old program to determine if they should reshape it for the future.

ODIN supports about 39,000 users. Its relative success stands in contrast to the mixed record of other federal desktop outsourcing programs.

NASA has executed 10 delivery orders for a total of $349 million annually. But use of the program outside NASA has not been as strong. Only the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has placed a delivery order through ODIN, for $20 million annually.

But ODIN program manager Karen Smith said interest is strong. The National Institutes of Health is drafting requirements for a request for proposals under ODIN, and 'the District of Columbia government is very interested in ODIN,' Smith said.

NASA's outsourcing effort has largely been well-received. About 80 percent of ODIN users report satisfaction with their systems after getting used to the method of providing them, NASA officials said.

'There are customers who love the service they are getting and don't understand the complaints,' Smith said. 'They are happy about the technology, the updated software and the help desk that simplifies their lives.'

But some ODIN users remain unsatisfied. According to Smith, who works from the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the biggest complaint is users' lack of control over the equipment. Smith characterized the complaints as 'I can't buy what I want when I want to.'

Some ODIN users also have complained about the quality of help desk support.

NASA officials routinely conduct customer surveys at centers that use ODIN, but with the new studies the space agency wants to capture the water cooler talk, the informally expressed opinions of the users.

'We have teams looking at the ODIN strategy, and whether the objectives are correct as ODIN is written now or whether it needs to be rewritten,' Smith said.

Upgrade to Windows XP

NASA expects to create an action plan this month for improving the program.

As technology matures, NASA progressively upgrades ODIN's offerings. The agency next plans to migrate its desktop PCs from Microsoft Windows 2000 to Windows XP.

'The biggest lesson we learned in implementing ODIN was the need for outreach and communication,' Smith said. 'We need to communicate with the end user what ODIN means for them.'

She said users 'tend to remember the bad stuff when it first happened' and don't care about the benefits of ODIN that don't affect them, such as the program's ability to improve property management.

For NASA managers, however, the benefits are clear. Besides being able to measure user satisfaction, NASA officials now know the cost of their PCs'about $2,000 apiece annually'and the systems are better, especially for administrative staff who were using hand-me-down machines, Smith said.

She advised agencies considering seat management programs to buy in gradually.

ODIN provides six platforms for its users, depending on their need for computer power. So far, three contractors are providing systems: Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas, Lockheed Martin Corp. through its OAO Corp. subsidiary, and Science Applications International Corp.

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