USDA nears completion of comm phase of its service upgrades







The Agriculture Department next month will complete its $130 million LAN and WAN
Voice project—the first component of the $3 billion Service Center Initiative, USDA
officials said.


LAN and WAN Voice provides a common telecommunications infrastructure for approximately
2,500 consolidated USDA service centers across the country. The infrastructure consists of
new cabling, routing and switching equipment, telephones and private branch exchanges, and
Internet access software for PCs, said Rich Roberts, LAN and WAN Voice project manager.


“The project will provide the infrastructure necessary to support business process
re-engineering work for enhanced service delivery to USDA customers while significantly
reducing telecommunications costs,” Roberts said. “It will also introduce
business quality e-mail, Internet access, File Transfer Protocol, and allow access to
satellite communications and distance learning.”


The Agriculture Department Reorganization Act of 1994 called for consolidating 3,700
offices of the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural
Development agencies to provide farmers with one-stop shopping for services.


“Through the goals of one-stop service, quality customer service, cost reduction
and partnership, the Service Center Implementation Team intends to streamline and greatly
enhance the way customers do business with USDA,” said Greg Carnill, SCIT executive
officer. “We will use a phased approach to implement change in order to minimize risk
and show return on investments made.”


The LAN and WAN Voice project falls under the information technology component of the
Service Center Initiative. The IT component covers a common computing environment, such as
buying standard PCs and servers for the three agencies, and a data management function to
create a shared customer file, Roberts said.


The four other components include:


The LAN and WAN Voice project team used the Integrated Systems Acquisition Project
contract to roll out a common networking framework in the new service centers. The Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service awarded the 11-year, $425 million contract to IBM
Corp. in September 1995, said Debra Wardle, LAN and WAN Voice deputy project manager.


IBM and its subcontractors in January 1997 began installing Category 5 wire; SEHI-24
hubs from Cabletron Systems Inc. of Rochester, N.H.; 2505, 2507 and 4500 routers from
Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.; and Advanced Electropro II phone systems and NEAX
2000 PBXs from NEC America Inc. of Itasca, Ill., Roberts said.


The team also installed 28.8- and 33.6-Kbps modems by Multi-Tech Systems Inc. of Mounds
View, Minn., network cards from 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., Netscape 4.0 browsers,
FTP ON-NET TCP/IP software from NetManage Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., and frame relay
services from various vendors.


USDA is using an AT&T Corp. backbone through FTS 2000, but the agency will switch
to MCI WorldCom Inc.’s FTS 2001 network later this year, Roberts said.


Some problems USDA confronted on the project included compensating for unique
construction techniques that made it difficult to hook up wiring and phones, tracking
equipment inventory and ensuring that it got to the service centers before the
installation crew, and tracking and reporting all activity for financial accountability,
Wardle said.


But the biggest problem the department had was shaky project management, Wardle
said. “We lacked sufficient controls in many areas,” she said.


USDA called in IBM, which recommended several project management processes.


“We learned three keys to project management success,” Wardle said. “You
need strong executive commitment through vision, cultural change focus and funding
support, a highly motivated government and contractor partnership, and to put in place
early a project performance management system.”  


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