FTS finds itself in vendor role at Dallas conference

FTS finds itself in vendor role at Dallas conference

GSA's Sandra Bates says the Federal Technology Service will be a one-stop shop for all telecommunications services.

At gathering, Sandra Bates describes the service as an integrator offering best-of-breed solutions

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

DALLAS'Contractors'or partners, as the Federal Technology Service now refers to them'were conspicuous by their absence as opening speakers at last month's Network Services Conference.

Instead of opening with a vice president from AT&T Corp., Sprint Corp. or MCI WorldCom Inc., the conference had a motivational speaker: Boris Brott, conductor of the New West Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles.

Vendor talk

When FTS commissioner Sandra Bates spoke, she sounded more like a vendor than a government executive. She described FTS as an integrator offering best-of-breed solutions.

'We are not here to hook you into a particular brand name or a particular vendor or distributor,' she told the audience of 2,000 government users. If it sounded as if FTS was doing the selling itself, 'that's the way we wanted it,' Bates said.

The conference highlighted FTS' evolution toward a private-sector-style organization. As the technology division of the General Services Administration, FTS earns its budget from commissions on reselling products and services from its commercial partners. Instead of bureaucratic job titles, FTS employees have business development and marketing specialist titles.

In past years, FTS 2000 contractors AT&T and Sprint orchestrated their own separate user conferences.

There was no need to mingle, as government agencies were assigned to one provider or the other under the mandatory program.

But when the transition to FTS 2001 began in 1998, the two vendors cooperated in a joint conference.

GSA last year hosted the first FTS 2001 conference, in which contractors Sprint and MCI WorldCom Inc. played a large part.

This year's conference was more inclusive, covering the entire range of offerings from FTS Network Services. The spotlight was on the agency, not on the contractors. Speakers emphasized the need to move away from the old program's bridge contracts, which expire Dec. 6.

The new FTS 2001 contracts are nonmandatory, and FTS is doing its best to sell to a customer base that is no longer captive. To keep customers, Bates said, FTS will be a one-stop shop for all telecommunications services: local, long-distance, wired, wireless and everything in between.

'Our strategy is to have a contractual relationship with all the viable vendors,' she said.

The one thing the agency lacks is incumbency. AT&T, the dominant vendor under the old program, does not hold a current contract. Unless it is allowed in as it has requested, about 76 percent of civilian federal users must change providers to get low rates under the FTS 2001 program.

Time for change

'You're experiencing the anxiety of change,' Brott said, adding that the FTS 2001 transition is something agencies will have to step up to.

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