Outsourcing mind-set gradually taking hold

Outsourcing mind-set gradually taking hold

GSA CIO Bill Piatt

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

A year after the General Services Administration awarded its Seat Management Program contracts, the project office still gets calls from people looking to buy office furniture.

Despite those calls, most people involved in the concept of outsourcing PC operations at agencies say the last 12 months have seen a shift in the level of understanding of seat management.

Step by step

'I think we've made a lot of progress in the last year,' said Charles Self, assistant commissioner for GSA's Office of Information Technology Integration, which spearheads the governmentwide project.

The number of task orders'just a handful so far'has received mixed reviews, even from Self.

But most ob-servers suggest that the idea of outsourcing PC management is still new so it is difficult to draw conclusions.

'I think we're still very early in this evolution,' said Everett A. Dyer, vice president and general manager of desktop and networking practice for Unisys Corp.'s federal systems group.

'There's a lot of wait-and-see out there,' he said.

Many agencies are carefully watching the tasks under way to determine how the process works before trying to outsource their own PC operations.

And even some of the agencies that have decided to move forward, such as the Treasury Department, are doing so with pilot projects.

'We don't have any real end users out there talking about their experience,' Dyer said. 'I think there is still some reluctance to just dive in head-first.'

Over the last 12 months, observers say, the biggest change has been in the understanding of the concept.

'At the chief information officer level, it's starting to be understood. The next step is for that understanding to start flowing down within an organization,' said Robert J. Guerra, president of Robert J. Guerra & Associates, a consulting company in Fairfax, Va.

The most visible users so far are GSA itself, which awarded a Seat Management task order to Litton PRC in December, and NASA, which rolled out its Outsourcing the Desktop Initiative for NASA project across the space agency.

Most recently, the Housing and Urban Development Department's Inspector General Office announced it had awarded a Seat Management task order to Dyncorp of Reston, Va. That $50.9 million task order, under the GSA Seat Management Program, will cover PC services for all of the office's 700 employees.

Guerra said PC outsourcing has been more successful than he expected it would be in the government. 'I think GSA is doing a great job marketing this,' he said.

Self was more reserved in his assessment. The task orders so far are meeting expectations, he said.

'I believe we're about on plan,' Self said. 'But that is really without having a demonstrated success story. I believe once we have a success story, I think the snowball is going to keep rolling.'

GSA Administrator David J. Barram made a critical decision when he decided that GSA would be the first Seat Management customer.

'There was a lot of ambivalence' primarily because of the newness of the concept, said Shereen G. Remez, GSA's chief knowledge officer and its former CIO.

The GSA rollout is important because it shows the agency has bought into the idea. But Self said that all of the early users are important because their efforts will illustrate that seat management is viable.

So far, PC outsourcing has been more of a cultural shift than anybody expected. It is critical that both the agencies and vendors are flexible, many officials said.

'This is not just limited to taking on a different type of service,' said P. Christopher Wren, GSA's program manager for the Seat Management project. 'It also involves changing the way an enterprise does business internally.'

Large organizations with many different business lines that are geographically disperse need to consider seemingly simple questions such as whether they will pay invoices centrally or at field offices, Wren said.

Seat management proponents said PC outsourcing will let agencies know and manage their PC costs and establish clear service levels for performance.

'The desktop is a utility. It's best dealt with as a utility,' GSA CIO Bill Piatt said.

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