Smith gets Office Anywhere moving
Smith gets Office Anywhere moving
As a program manager and telecommuter, she knows how to mobilize feds
By Richard W. Walker
Welcome to Wanda's world, where all the latest communications technologies converge.
Wanda Smith is chief operations officer of the General Services Administration's nascent Office Anywhere program. When fully staffed and running later this year, Office Anywhere will solve mobile computing and telecommunications problems for federal agencies, covering hardware, application software and wireless technologies.
Office Anywhere also will provide the support services needed to make the products work in any kind of remote or mobile office.
Smith even has a slogan for Office Anywhere: 'Connect anywhere, ready every time.'
Smith's base of operations is a small suite of offices in GSA's historic 1917 building on F Street in Washington.
On a recent cold, sunny morning, with the windows wide open to dissipate the waves of heat pouring out of the office's antiquated radiators, Smith talked about the challenges of getting the new program off the ground.
'Since I came on board, it's been my responsibility to do everything'set up the office space, put position descriptions together, hire the personnel, get the equipment and the office furniture,' Smith said. 'Basically, I've been setting up shop like any entrepreneur would.'
To date, Smith has hired two staff members'a marketing director and a business development officer'and she expects to bring four more, including a contract specialist, aboard by June.Knows all about it
"The care is what's needed. You can buy the products anywhere." - Wanda Smith
Fittingly, Smith's peripatetic work life is a template for the sort of federal customer that Office Anywhere will target.
'My typical day doesn't begin or end in a traditional office,' she said. 'I have a mobile office from which I work two or three days a week, and my staff is mobile as well.'
The experience Smith has gained from being a manager of remote employees and a mobile worker herself give her a perspective that will be invaluable when she advises Office Anywhere customers, Smith said.
'As a manager I have firsthand experience dealing with the many challenges of managing a remote staff and can elevate many concerns federal managers have regarding mobile workers,' she said. 'As a remote worker, I have experience working from a variety of remote sites'home, hotel and customer sites. Therefore I can address many of the challenges and frustrations mobile workers encounter. I have good knowledge of what works and what does not.'
Smith's door-to-door commute to downtown Washington from her home in Fairfax, Va., is a daunting 90 minutes, much of it spent riding Washington's Metro rail system. So she works from home two or three days a week, especially when she's meeting with prospective Office Anywhere vendors, most of whom are based in northern Virginia.
A Gateway Solo notebook PC and a cell phone are the remote-access tools she needs to stay in touch.
'I have access to every single thing at home,' she said. 'I can access my payroll, our forms'everything'from home.'
Smith also will add a Palm VII wireless organizer from Palm Computing Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., to her communications arsenal. In addition, she may add a Palm III and a Minstrel modem from Novatel Wireless Inc. of San Diego 'so we can experiment with the different technologies and compare the trade-offs.'They'll support
Because Office Anywhere won't have its own procurement vehicle, the program's emphasis will be on what Smith calls the care aspect of helping agencies acquire and deploy remote-access technologies.
Smith's concept of care includes supplying needs analyses, customized solutions, implementation services, education and training, technical support, and asset and configuration management.
Such services are what agencies want most from Office Anywhere, Smith discovered when she assembled a focus group in November with officials from the Justice Department, the Social Security Administration, the Education Department, GSA and other agencies.
'Everyone in the room agreed that the care is what's needed,' Smith said. 'The products are out there. You can buy the products anywhere.'
Smith, of course, has to know the products and technologies inside out. And that's another challenge.
'I spend eight to 10 hours a day studying this stuff and figuring it out,' she said. 'When a customer walks in and asks what's the difference between a Ricochet modem [from Metricom Inc. of Los Gatos, Calif.] and a Cellular Digital Packet Data modem, they're starting from scratch. My challenge is to pull all that together for our customers and make sure I understand it well enough to guide them.'
A computer- and decision-sciences graduate of Rider College, Smith began her information technology career in 1985 as a computer systems analyst for the Air Force's Federal Computer Performance and Evaluation and Simulation Center (FEDSIM), which became the province of GSA the following year.
During her 14 years with GSA, Smith has acquired a reputation as a whiz at developing new programs and services, having served as director of GSA's special products and new product development programs and, most recently, as chief of the Seat Management Program.
When Smith took over the Office Anywhere start-up last February, the program had a Web page and not much else.
One of her first actions was to change the name. It was then called Anywhere Office, a name that prompted much bewilderment, Smith said.
'What's an anywhere office?' people would ask.
Smith came up with a simple solution.
'I didn't want to rename it completely so I just flip-flopped it,' she said. 'People don't call me anymore and ask what it is.'
Smith also quantified Office Anywhere's potential customer base.
Analyzing Office of Management and Budget figures, she projected that the federal government has roughly 360,000 mobile workers who fall into three categories: field agents, federal travelers and teleworkers.
Field agents number about 230,000, travelers approximately 100,000 and teleworkers about 30,000, she said.
'There is some overlap,' she explained. 'You can be a field agent and a traveler.'
Based on these figures, Smith decided that Office Anywhere should first concentrate its marketing efforts and technical solutions on the largest group'the field agents.
A major component of Smith's marketing strategy is to fashion what she calls quick-start pilots'customized strategies that demonstrate to agencies how they can adapt new mobile and wireless technologies to streamline operations.
'I don't believe that just telling them that there are all these products out there is going to help us sell Office Anywhere,' she said. 'We have to demonstrate to them how it's going to help.'
Smith is working with Oracle Corp. on a quick-start pilot for field agents, such as census takers or food inspectors. Using Palm handhelds, inspectors would enter data into customized forms and then upload the information to the Oracle database at the enterprise, eliminating a costly, paper-laden process. The pilot also incorporates wireless access for emergency reporting.
One of Smith's biggest tests will be operating without a procurement vehicle.
'Culturally, it's a bit of a challenge for me to run a program where I don't actually own a contract vehicle,' she said. But, she added, Office Anywhere has the expertise to help agencies choose the right contract. 'We know which vehicles best serve certain types of acquisitions,' she said. 'We don't have an interest in any particular contract. How do you know which one will give you the best bang for the buck? Let us find out'that's part of our value add.'Better this way
In reality, she said, not having a vehicle is 'a better way to go because I don't have the overhead costs of putting out a $2 billion contract, so I'm not starting out in debt.'
To show customers the array of mobile products and services available on GSA contracts, Smith will set up an Office Anywhere storefront display on the program's Web page, at www.gsa.gov/anywhere
'That's my hot item,' she said. 'The store will pull together all the GSA offerings so you go to one place, a one-stop shop to see what products and services that relate to an office anywhere are available at GSA.'
All of this encompasses Smith's overall vision for Office Anywhere: keeping it ahead of the technology game.