OCC tries hand at fix-it shop

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has an idea that could help large
agencies save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year: fix your own computers instead
of sending them back to the manufacturer for repair.


The idea, a rarity among federal agencies, surfaced when Bell Atlantic Corp.'s computer
maintenance contract with OCC expired in late 1994.


Although not dissatisfied with Bell Atlantic's performance, OCC officials decided to
look for ways to increase efficiency and lower costs, said Kathleen King, associate
director of OCC's Office of Automation Support.


"We decide to seriously think if we wanted that type of contract again or if there
was a better alternative," King said. "We thought and thought and decided we
could run it in-house."


The agency has been saving an average of $40,000 a month by running its own repair
shop, King said.


The program works this way: When OCC buys hardware--such as PCs, CD-ROM drives,
scanners, monitors, printers and modems--it negotiates a lower price from manufacturers by
waiving warranties.


If a part needs replacing, King and her staff send the part to the manufacturer, get a
new one and receive credit for the part. OCC uses the credit to buy other equipment.


OCC has sent six of its technicians and a supervisor to computer repair classes taught
by various vendors.


OCC officials said although many agencies could save money by repairing their own
computers, not all computer equipment can be repaired outside the factory.


"If you have been buying from too many people, it would be very hard to
effectively maintain an in-house repair depot because you cannot have your people
certified on 12 different brands," King said.


If agencies buy few items from a vendor, manufacturers would not offer tangible
discounts, she said. "This will work best if your agency has standardized its
equipment."


OCC uses about 3,500 PCs from Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. of Irvine,
Calif., and Dell Computer Corp. The agency uses ProLiant and ProSignia servers from Compaq
Computer Corp., said depot maintenance coordinator Maureen Darcy.


Manufacturers have different certification requirements for in-house technicians, Darcy
said. Compaq requires that 25 percent of an agency's technicians be certified on Compaq
equipment. Toshiba does not have that requirement, but its courses are long, she said.


To handle the estimated 3,000 yearly repair requests, Darcy and her staff in the Office
of Automation Support maintain a stock of computer parts and accessories.


How many and which parts to stock at the agency is determined by the repair requests
the office gets, King said. "We get anything from a modem not working to, 'Oops, I
dropped my computer,'" Darcy said.


If an employee's notebook computer breaks down away from the office, the employee can
call a representative toll-free at one of OCC's eight regional information technology
service centers.


If an employee has to send the equipment to OCC's data center in Landover, Md.,
automation support staff usually repairs the hardware and sends it back within 48 hours,
King said. The staff also sends out spare PCs.


"In addition to getting their equipment back faster, our customers don't have to
deal with finding a repair shop and worrying about tracking their computers or deal with
any of the administrative hassles," King said.


The support staff also handles servers at OCC's 100 offices nationwide. OCC rules
stipulate that most employees, especially traveling bank examiners who check banks'
operations, download their files into a server each day.


OCC has maintained on-site repair agreements for some of its servers because they host
important data needed for OCC's daily operations, and the agency cannot afford to shut
them down for repair, King said.


"The project is more cost-effective in the long run, and our customers seem to be
more satisfied with the service we are providing them because we know our customers--our
own employees," King said.


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