FEDSIM changes its workflow

Processing procurements at the General Service Administration's Federal Systems
Integration and Management Center was fraught with peril--until officials decided to
create a virtual processing system.


FEDSIM, one of four cost centers in the Federal Technology Service's Office of
Information Technology Integration, provides IT goods and services to federal agencies
nationwide on a cost-reimbursable basis.


Until last year, FEDSIM did it the old-fashioned way. Procurement packages up to 30
pages long were tucked into envelopes with routing slips and sent zigzagging across the
country from program managers and directors to financial personnel and contracting
officers.


With more than 40 handoffs in this labyrinthine process, managers had to cross their
fingers and hope that the packages wouldn't stray, languish in the inbox of someone out
sick or on vacation, or become separated from their routing slips and disappear.


Post-award packages, called receiving report packages, also wound their way through a
manual process, beginning with the submission by vendors of invoices to FEDSIM program
managers.


"Something could fall through the cracks, a package could get lost or somebody
could be out sick and a package could get buried on their desk," said Elizabeth
Wilkinson, FEDSIM information systems integrator.


More typically, Wilkinson said, a package would just get bogged down as it was routed
through the system, sometimes having to go backward before it could continue forward.


"As it goes through these different steps, it's like an algebraic equation--one
builds on the next as it goes through the process," she said. "So if it gets to
Step 7 and the person handling that doesn't have a full suite of data to handle their
part, then it has to go back."


A program manager had no simple way of locating a package.


"If one step failed in the process, it was extremely difficult to track,"
Wilkinson said. "We would never know the status of a package at any given
point--where it was, whether it was stuck on someone's desk, how long it had been there,
whether changes had been made or problems identified or if it had been rejected or
approved."


Two years ago, Wilkinson began writing the requirements for an automated processing
system. She also assembled an innovative mission team to find the technology, implement
the system and manage it.


The team included the Directorate of Contracting Mission Team 1 at Fort Huachuca,
Ariz., a fee-for-service agency that awards and administers contracts; the Defense Finance
and Accounting Service in Seaside, Calif., which provides entitlement computation,
accounting and reporting services for the group at Fort Huachuca and other Defense
Department agencies; and Signal Corp. of Fairfax, Va.


During a two-month selection process, the team evaluated four commercial groupware
packages and settled on Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino.


"This is brand-new stuff. It's Web technology," Wilkinson said. "We knew
we had to bring in a vendor with skilled people."


Originally intended to be a prototype, the Notes system was quickly implemented after
three months of successful beta testing, according to Signal program manager David Trail.


Using Notes, tracking is easy. "We know exactly where a package is--you can see it
on the system--at any given time, who last had any action on it, exactly what action was
taken on it and how long it's been sitting in someone's box," Wilkinson said.


From the inception of contractual requirements and award of contract to final payment
of vendor invoices and contract close-out, it's a "true paperless environment from
cradle to grave," she said.


Lotus Notes "distributes data to functionally diverse, geographically dispersed
groups and does it beautifully," she said.


Another component of the system is Lotus Domino, an applications server that has Web
publishing capabilities and brings vendors into the system. "We have built mailboxes
in a secure server outside our firewall that allows vendors to communicate with us over
the system," Wilkinson said. Vendors can ask contract questions, submit invoices or
download delivery documents.


The system has been rolled out to about 250 employees who use Pentium PCs running
Microsoft Windows 95 and Lotus cc:Mail, GSA's standard e-mail package. Users sign off on
the documents using Notes' electronic signature feature.


The Notes tracking and ordering system initiates, tracks and manages hundreds of
packages each fiscal year, Wilkinson said.


Notes servers at each team location automatically replicate information every 10
minutes. "Unless disasters occur simultaneously at geographically dispersed
locations, you've got a backup except for 10 minutes' worth of work," Wilkinson said.
"So it's a very meager loss."


FEDSIM has found that the new system has slashed processing time from an average of
21.7 hours to 10.8 hours per package.


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