IT officials advise caution on seat management

IT officials advise caution on seat management

By Chris Driscoll

GCN Staff

Two early adopters of federal seat management programs at the eGov '99 conference in Washington last week advised agencies to take a wait-and-see approach.

Donald Heffernan, General Services Administration deputy chief information officer, said it is still too early to know how well federal information technology outsourcing experiments will deliver on the promises of customer service and quality.

'If I had the time, I would wait six months to make sure,' Heffernan said. GSA has outsourced the management of its own 1,800 seats and is promoting the GSA-run, governmentwide Seat Management Program.

Lesson No. 1 in PC leasing is that it costs more than outright purchasing, said Lawrence Jurcich, chief of information services at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ATF is paying $9,877 per seat for its three-year deal with Unisys Corp., Jurcich said.

But Heffernan said GSA is saving money compared with owning and managing its own PCs, LANs and other systems infrastructure.

Heffernan and Jurcich agreed on the greatest benefit: better technology and customer service. They urged interested agencies to look first at the benefits rather than at the initial costs of outsourcing all or part of their needs.

Two reasons

GSA and ATF took different approaches to PC outsourcing. ATF wanted exactly the same hardware and software at every seat, but GSA wanted to maintain close control over several of its LANs and was less concerned about identical PCs.

ATF's bulldozer approach included replacing all its old PCs, software and LANs with new equipment identically configured throughout the bureau, Jurcich said. The homogeneous computing environment let the agency cut maintenance, help desk and training costs, he said.

GSA, on the other hand, was motivated to outsource in part by delays encountered with previous technology implementations. When GSA last upgraded its Microsoft Office suite, it took a year to move from Office 95 to Office 97, Heffernan said.

GSA also has had a difficult time keeping IT personnel. Even after outsourcing, there have been no IT staff reductions. That fact earned cooperation from GSA labor unions, as it did at ATF, Heffernan and Jurcich said.

Union members were generally supportive of ATF's move, seeing it as enhancing their jobs with better technology, Jurcich said.

Another benefit, Heffernan said, will be less hassle when the time comes to implement the next operating system upgrade. GSA intends to install Windows 2000 and Linux OSes sometime in 2001. ATF will migrate from Windows 95 to Windows 2000 after April.

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