Outsourcing would free agency IT leaders to focus on results

Outsourcing would free agency IT leaders to focus on results

By Charles Self

Special to GCN

Seat management started as the name of an acquisition but in short order came to define a concept for managed information technology services at the desktop level. These IT services include activities that can and should be contracted for, using performance-based measurements and metrics.

Seat management as a concept provides a new way of acquiring and supporting IT. Contracts under the General Services Administration's Seat Management Program and the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA are the premier indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts for this service.

Simply put, seat management lets agencies focus on the what, not the how, of doing their jobs, fundamentally changing how government managers treat IT at the desktop level. And it brings necessary discipline to the desktop PC and its associated IT infrastructure.

Throughout my 30-year career in government, I have seen major changes in the way government acquires and uses IT. It has long been true that IT is essential for government to perform its mission, even at the most basic levels.

It is also true that as IT has become more critical, it has become much more complex and complicated to manage and integrate.

We have come to rely on private industry for IT support; today, most government operations are outsourced to some degree, and we for the most part depend on private-industry resources and expertise.

So the question becomes not whether we should outsource, or whether we should depend on the private sector, but how can we outsource most effectively and partner with industry on a level playing field.

The difficulty in achieving effective outsourcing does not lie solely in the domains of either industry or government. Neither is it the result of the proliferation of complex technology. The difficulty arises from the manner in which we acquire IT and measure our performance.

Most people in government still insist on telling industry how to do things rather than focusing on what needs to be done. We still want to speak techno-talk. We want to specify how many gigabytes, how many megahertz. We should instead be speaking in terms of our missions and results.

We often acquire and measure IT support in terms of labor hours and manage the resources from a short-term, fire fighting perspective.

We should instead be specifying our mission objectives and measuring our industry partners according to their ability to help us meet those objectives.

That's the way seat management lets us focus on the what and not the how. With true seat management, we acquire our desktop PC and IT infrastructure according to performance-based service levels and measure industry performance on how well the contractors achieve certain levels of performance.

The how of meeting our goals has been the focus in government for many years, and we have survived.

But the day will come when government can no longer specify the how because it will no longer be able to hire, maintain or retain the requisite IT skills within the changing IT work force.

On a mission

Government must begin to reorient itself to specifying what must be accomplished. Learning to define the what'in terms of performance measures and metrics'and ultimately tying it to mission performance is new and different.

It represents change. But it is a step that must be taken.

If government leaders don't make the decision, it will be made for them: The inadequate supply of IT professionals, the proliferation of new technologies, the increased requirement for integration, interoperability and standardization, and the eventual integration of voice, video and data will force their hands.

To work with industry on a level field, we must communicate more with mission objectives and less with technical specifications.

Seat management is about discipline. It forces us to focus on our mission. It forces us to look at the big IT picture from the enterprise perspective and to look at IT as a mission enabler.

Focusing on the what and not the how lets us better integrate our IT infrastructure and mission. Seat management provides the tools and mechanics to do this.

We will not be able to achieve our missions without the right technology and smart sourcing, and we will find it difficult to effect the smart, proper solutions without the discipline imposed by seat management.

Sure, it's harder to do seat management; trying something new is always harder because it is different.'It's easier to buy labor hours, to buy hardware, to buy in bits and pieces.'It's easier'right now'to specify the how and not the what.

But as agencies implement seat management, the government's knowledge base will grow, and we will all benefit from the lessons of the agencies that have gone first. Seat management is right for government, and its time will come.

Charles Self is deputy commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service.

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