Federal IT managers employ ingenuity to stretch dollars

Some agencies use remote management techniques. Others rely on automated software
distribution. Some save money with
large-scale software licensing agreements and standard configurations. Still others pin
future savings on intranets, expecting to need fewer software licenses.


An informal GCN survey found that the common view of managers is simple: If it works,
go for it.


One Labor Department division cuts costs with a mix of remote systems management
software and intranet-based text support.


Kris Iskandar, director of the Information Technology Support Office at Labor's
Administration and Management Division, said his 2,600-employee organization relies on
SupportMagic SQL, a client-server help desk package from Magic Solutions Inc. of Paramus,
N.J., and Microsoft Systems Management Server.


Remote help software lets Rex Sanders of the Geological Survey's Palo Alto, Calif.,
office keep desktop machines running in multiple buildings that are 15 to 20 miles apart.


Sanders, an information systems coordina-tor with the Western Coastal Marine Geology
Team, and a co-worker use Timbuktu Pro from Farallon Communications Inc. of Alameda,
Calif., to support 120 Apple Macintoshes.


"We try to figure out the problem and maybe solve it remotely," Sanders said.
Users must give the support personnel permission to access their hard drives to do the
remote troubleshooting.


Sanders said a software license plan lets his division buy fewer copies. The KeyServer
license management software from Sassafras Software Inc. of Hanover, N.H., automatically
notifies users when they can receive software upgrades. It also monitors the network to
limit the number of concurrent users accessing applications.


"We're probably not saving that much money," he said, "but we're more
legal" because fewer workers are running illegal software copies.


At the Health and Human Services Department, Connie Shafer has built a corporate
intranet from which users can access software they want without needing a client license.


Shafer, a branch chief at HHS' Program Support Center in Rockville, Md., posts billing
application software using Lotus Development Corp.'s Domino server and human resources
forms from JetForm Corp. of Ottawa. Her fee-for-service organization will sell the package
to other departments soon.


About 1,200 HHS employees can access the software with Netscape Navigator 3.01
browsers, Shafer said. The center's mixed network environment includes both Banyan Systems
Vines and Novell NetWare operating systems, but the platform independence of the intranet
allows everyone access, she said.


Paul Wohlleben, deputy chief information officer at the Environmental Protection
Agency, said EPA uses the Tivoli Management Environment from Tivoli Systems Inc. of
Austin, Texas, for software distribution and PC and server management.


The agency leverages its site licensing agreements for Lotus Notes groupware and other
products to save money in buying software for 18,000 employees, Wohlleben said.


Other systems management products with strong government market share include Computer
Associates International Inc.'s
CA-Unicenter TNG and the Platinum Open Enterprise Management System from Platinum
Technology Inc. of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.


Those products can handle complex environments that include Unix systems. Intel Corp.'s
LANDesk and Enterprise LAN from McAfee Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., also have
government users in Intel-based environments.


One Air Force manager said avoiding the version wars has saved his organization money.
Col. Philip Block, telecommunications chief at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said many users
there still work with Corel Corp.'s CorelDraw 5.0 rather than the current 7.0, because the
older version suits their needs.


"We don't force people to upgrade when they don't need it," he said.


Block said his organization reviews individual upgrade requests on a case-by-case basis
and discounts marketing hype. "We ask each person, 'What in the new version is so
important that you need it?' " he said.


Enterprisewide upgrades receive much closer scrutiny. "Too many government
agencies force people to upgrade when they don't need to," he said.


Like EPA's Wohlleben, Susan Cady, a network administrator in the Smithsonian
Institution's Information Technology Office, said standard PC configurations help her
agency save money. "Decentralization has not worked" at the Smithsonian, she
said.


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