GSA's information systems integrator fears no revision

FALLS CHURCH, Va.—Elizabeth Wilkinson is at the gym by 5 a.m. most
mornings, lifting weights. Then she goes to her office and flexes her systems muscle.


She is the information systems integrator for the Office of Information Technology
Integration (ITI) in the General Services Administration’s Federal Technology
Service.


Her systems charge is complex. Like most federal IT managers, Wilkinson develops and
maintains systems for her office. But that office also happens to sell IT support services
and acquisition vehicles to federal agencies worldwide.


“It was compared to a lawyer representing a law firm in some type of legal
action,” Wilkinson said. “My users are IT professionals, so they keep me on my
toes.”


Her internal users are systems-savvy federal IT program managers and contracting
officers who work both at her building and at regional centers across the country.
Externally, agency contracting officers and vendors tap into ITI’s procurement
systems. The office expects to reach $1 billion in sales this year, Wilkinson said.


On a typical day, Wilkinson is in the office by 8 a.m. answering the 25 to 50 e-mails
awaiting her. That number goes up if her office has recently deployed a system.


She spends the rest of her day working on systems strategies. She holds meetings,
e-mail conferences and conversations with ITI’s program managers and vendors that
support systems throughout ITI.


“We do a lot of whiteboarding, constant whiteboarding,” she said.
“We’ll say, ‘Here’s a new requirement—what are we going to do
with it?’ ”


One day, a team works to figure out a way to let vendors download procurement
requirement information directly via the Web. The next, it evaluates a deployed module
that captures business process measurements.


The impetus of every systems strategy is more than just day-to-day operational
maintenance, however. In the ever-changing world of technology, technology buying and
government, Wilkinson has a lot to juggle.


“We’re constantly supporting and we’re very involved with the National
Partnership for Reinventing Government initiatives” and all they encompass, Wilkinson
said.


Her shop considers overarching concerns such as acquisition reform, business process
re-engineering and performance measuring in the design and upkeep of every system.


“Information technology and acquisition are two of the areas within the government
that marry beautifully,” she said, because each involves repetitive processes. But
you don’t want to automate a step in the process, she cautioned, if automation
eliminates the need for it. So she constantly challenges her users and herself to justify
automation of any process.


One such automation project won one of Wilkinson’s teams the Government Technology
Leadership award last year. ITI’s Tracking and Ordering application lets program
managers at desktop PCs prepare and package an acquisition request, and it then tracks the
acquisition throughout its lifecycle.


Vendors can submit electronic invoices, and ITI can extract required report information
on topics such as use of 8(a) contractors, Wilkinson said. The system is built on Lotus
Notes and Lotus Domino and runs under Microsoft Windows 95.


A project now under way will integrate the office’s financial, tracking and
ordering, and administrative systems for her users. Working with smart, systems-savvy
users can be a challenge, Wilkinson said, because they question decisions.


“I do find myself justifying the whys,” she said. But the outweighing benefit
is that they are also a rich source of ideas and information, she was quick to add.


Supporting agencies governmentwide creates a cross-pollination effect in systems
information. The technology that her office learns about through its federal clients, she
said, is cutting-edge.


“So we have the advantage of seeing all of these types of requirements that give
us great ideas for how to implement them and share them across the board,” she said.
“It’s a brain trust of requirements.”


“Geographical boundaries are sort of artificial boundaries now,” she said.
“Through technology today, you can telecommute across the world.”


Wilkinson characterized her job as one of the best she could have because in it
she’s always dealing with change and challenge.


Another of Wilkinson’s reponsibilities is writing ITI’s strategic plan, the
office’s vision for technology implementation. The plan’s schedule reflects the
pace of technology. Once released every five years, it is now released every three.


But Wilkinson continually works on revisions, she said, because new business
requirements always come into play.


Wilkinson credited her supervisors, whom she considers visionaries, with steering the
office in the right direction and giving her the ability to do her job every day.


Even so, she said, at the end of every day, “you look back and realize you had
four other things that you swore you were going to do that you then look to get done
tomorrow.”


Wilkinson once regularly worked late at the office for the quiet time it afforded her,
but that’s changed recently because of one particular 14-year-old.


“I made a promise to my son just a couple of months ago that I’d be home by 6
o’clock every night” to have dinner with him, she said.


She does bring her Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. Tecra notebook PC home,
though. And she crawls into bed each night with trade publications to keep up with new
technology and perhaps spot something to bring to the systems table tomorrow.

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