GSA expects a smooth cutover to WITS 2001

GSA expects a smooth cutover to WITS 2001

The telecom changeover will be smooth, GSA's Sandra Bates says.

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The General Services Administration last month set the stage for a six-month transition that it contends will lead to lower prices and more services under the new Washington Interagency Telecommunications System 2001 contract.

Agency WITS users will keep their telephone numbers during the transition.

The new prices and services will all be available by Oct. 1, said Sandra Bates, commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service.

About 180,000 telecommunications lines in GSA's National Capital region must shift to the new contract, awarded to WITS incumbent Bell Atlantic Corp. The Defense Department, a new user, will double the size of the program's user base.

Unlike agencies' slow-moving switch to the governmentwide FTS 2001 long-haul communications contract, Bates predicted the shift to WITS 2001 would cause minimum disruption.

No problem

'This one will be smooth,' she said at a kick-off conference in Washington.

During the WITS 2001 cutover, Bell Atlantic will be going through some transitions of its own. Following shareholder and regulatory approval last month, the company announced the consummation of its merger with GTE Corp. effective July 1. The combined entity will begin operating under the name Verizon Corp. on Aug. 1.

Bell Atlantic's federal division is reorganizing under the merger. The position of president, held by

Barbara Connor, has been eliminated, and the division will be under the immediate control of chief operating officer Leonard Williams. Connor had previously announced she would leave the company July 1.

Williams told federal users that his top priority is 'minimizing the transition risk you face in moving to WITS 2001.'

When the WITS 2001 contract went to Bell Atlantic in January after two years of requirements preparation, WinStar Communications Inc. of New York protested the sole-source award. WinStar, which has become a leading player in FTS' Metropolitan Area Acquisitions program for local services, sought to compete with Bell Atlantic in the Washington area.

The General Accounting Office denied the protest in mid-May, clearing the way for FTS to begin work under the new contract. The $1 billion deal has a four-year base and four one-year options. GSA estimated federal users in the Washington area could save $300 million in phone charges over eight years through use of the contract.

The original WITS contract in 1989 went to what was then C&P Telephone Co., later Bell Atlantic, now Verizon. WITS primarily provided voice services over a federally owned telephone system. GSA owns the switches for about 160,000 lines.

But the agency now plans to get out of the telephone equipment business, selling its WITS switches within 16 months. Although WITS 2001 will supply a complete range of customer premises equipment, FTS is promoting it as a services contract.

Bates said FTS' intention is to 'get away from high-capital investment and go more toward purchasing services.'

The new contract's prices are as much as 40 percent less than current rates, and the contract stipulates that any commercial telecom service offered in the region must be available through WITS 2001. Verizon then would have seven days to add new commercial offerings of its own to the contract and 30 days to match those of area competitors.

Agencies also can get WITS 2001 prices to supply telephone and data lines to telecommuters' residences. Previously, such services were billed at residential rates.

For most WITS users, the conversion primarily will require moving from the present online ordering and billing system, Bell Atlantic Operating System Control (BAOSC), to the new Service@Once system [GCN, July 3, Page 42].

The company has spent $25 million preparing Service@Once for WITS and will spend another $10 million before it is ready by October, said Joan Withers, the federal group's chief information officer.

How to do it

The company will train representatives from each Washington area agency to use the new ordering system. The representatives will have authority to place service and change orders via Service@Once.

Although initial access will be through the Web at www.wits2001.com, orders will be placed over a secure dedicated or dial-up link that does not travel the Internet, said James Glowacki, the company's general manager for WITS 2001.

'Service@Once touches switches,' Glowacki said, so a high degree of security is needed. Agency representatives will reach the secure link by clicking an icon on the Web site.

The transition to WITS 2001 will happen in two phases, said Bev Sullivan, head of business management in the FTS National Capital Region. In the first phase, 160,000 WITS lines now administered through BAOSC will be switched to Service@Once.

'It's basically a database transfer,' Sullivan said, and users should not notice any changes.

Moving another 20,000 lines now being served by 24 switches in the Consolidated Centrex program will be more time-consuming, Sullivan said. The switches are on Bell Atlantic's commercial network, and the lines will have to be moved, one switch at a time, to the WITS Service@Once system.

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