Agency execs debate seat management pros, cons

Just who in an agency should drive a seat management program?


Some in government say it is the job of the chief information officer. Others say the
responsibility falls to the chief financial officer. The issue was the subject of a
spirited and sometimes terse debate this month during a breakfast panel sponsored by the
Association for Federal IRM at the FOSE trade show in Washington.


“The notion, to me, is that it’s clearly a CFO decision,” said Jerry
Slaymaker, senior adviser to the Environmental Protection Agency’s CIO.


Ultimately, he said, choosing to outsource PC operations is a business case decision
and a money issue. “The CFO is the only one who has the juice to make this
happen,” he said.


William N. Gormley, the General Services Administration’s assistant commissioner
for acquisition, acknowledged that implementing a seat management initiative requires the
backing of the CFO and other agency chiefs.


“I really think this is an opportunity for the CIO to be a champion and to step
out,” he said.


But the people who have been questioning GSA about its Seat Management Program are
mostly from acquisition offices. “I assume they’re talking to the CIOs,”
Gormley said.


So far, GSA has a list of 100 agencies that have expressed interest in using the
agency’s program. Only GSA and the Treasury Department have begun work on Seat
Management task orders. Last summer, GSA awarded eight contracts for the program; they are
open to buyers governmentwide.


Widespread adoption of PC outsourcing will depend on what happens among the initial
agencies that implement seat management, whether through the GSA contracts or other
contracts, said Charles Self, assistant commissioner for GSA’s Office of Information
Technology Integration.


For seat management to take off, “we have to have a few success stories,” he
said.


The idea of outsourcing all PC operations requires that agencies confront multiple
management issues—particularly the staffing issue, Slaymaker said. The effect on the
work force is an unknown: Will agencies need fewer people if they implement seat
management? What will happen to those people? How will agencies prepare employees for the
cultural changes?


Self said that, given the the dearth of IT workers in government and industry, skilled
workers will always have a job.


But Slaymaker said many of the people who support IT are not necessarily working in
jobs classified as IT positions. “You’re going to find a lot of people in a very
uncomfortable zone for a very long time, and that’s not good,” he said.


Another point of contention is cost. Figuring out total cost of ownership is tough but
essential, said Bill Maurer, vice president of business process design and re-engineering
for the GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford, Conn.


Determining the cost creates a road map for the organization trying to implement seat
management, he said. “You must know where you started and that means knowing the
total cost of ownership,” Maurer said.


Gormley saw it a bit differently: “Seat management and total cost of ownership are
sort of like college tuition; you really won’t know your total costs until you get to
the end.” Agencies ought to figure out their base costs as well as they can but
realize they might not be able to foresee all the costs, he said.


Maurer predicted that agencies will spend more money in the distributed environment in
five years than they are spending today, he said. “There’s nothing wrong with a
cost increase as long as you have a measurable increase in productivity,” Maurer
said.


But Slaymaker said that for seat management to become a must-do item, agencies will
have to save money by outsourcing PC work. “I don’t think the government can
afford for the costs to go up,” he said. Government “is just not going to have
the money to make those investments.”      


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