Seat management survives its transition year
By Christopher J. Dorobek
What a difference a year makes.
Just over a year ago, speculation abounded on the future of desktop PC outsourcing, as the General Services Administration rolled out its Seat Management Program contracts and the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA contracts made their debut.
There were questions then about whether anyone would step up to the contracts. Few understood the concept of PC outsourcing, and fewer still were considering using the contracts.
Studies showed that most chief information officers were not convinced of the benefits of PC outsourcing.
Today, the seat management concept has gained a foothold among federal agencies. NASA is using ODIN agencywide. GSA has nearly completed its first use of Seat Management at the new Willow Woods building in Vienna, Va., and the agency is working on the program's implementation around Washington.
Observers say that GSA has made headway, but they believe that the ultimate success of PC outsourcing is still undetermined. 'Things are going more slowly than anyone envisioned,' said Everett A. Dyer, vice president and general manager of Unisys Corp.'s federal desktop PC and networking unit.
One of GSA's biggest accomplishments is the fact that compared with a year ago, many more people today understand that seat management refers to PC outsourcing and not to ergonomics.
'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.
PC outsourcing has been more complex than most people had anticipated because it requires a shift in the agency's mind-set.
It also has been difficult to sell the concept because as yet there have been no demonstrated successes. The most visible effort is the rollout at the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, but ATF did not use the Seat Management contracts. It used GSA's Multiple-Award Schedule contracts with Unisys.
The early rollouts demonstrate a steep learning curve. 'The initial transition period is one that surprises both sides ' in the level of complexity,' Dyer said.
At ATF, it took time for the bureau to get the feel of the idea. Originally, ATF required that some services remain on site. But some have now been moved to a remote Unysis site because ATF is now comfortable with the concept, Dyer said.
The other early seat management projects have reported similar experiences. Easy does it
'Because you've been used to doing it a certain way ' you have to take time and care to bring folks along so they can accept and understand what's going on,' said Shereen G. Remez, GSA's chief knowledge officer.
'This is not just limited to taking on a different type of service,' said P. Christopher Wren, the Federal Technology Service's Seat Management Program manager. 'It also involves changing the way an enterprise does business internally.'
The objective of PC outsourcing has remained constant, GSA CIO Bill Piatt said: Use limited resources where they can be most effective; that means using resources not on PC maintenance but on mission-critical systems.
The coming year will be critical to PC outsourcing as agencies move beyond year 2000 fixes, as the effects of the IT brain drain become more evident, and, not least, as agencies assess the programs that went first. Time will tell whether GSA, like the Pied Piper, can attract more followers.