INTERVIEW: CIO sets sights on standard IT


Bill Piatt

Bill Piatt became chief information officer of the General Services Administration in July of last year. Previously, he was the CIO for GSA's Public Buildings Service and for the Peace Corps.

Piatt recently spoke with GCN about GSA's information technology plans.

Who's In Charge

Bill Piatt

Chief Information Officer

Susan Chu

Deputy CIO

Tom Burke

Chief Information Assurance Officer

Ed O'Hare

CIO, Federal Technology Service

G. Martin Wagner

Associate Administrator, Office of Governmentwide Policy

Joe McKay

CIO, Office of Governmentwide Policy

Michael Carelton

CIO, Public Buildings Service


(in millions, fiscal 1999)

AT&T Corp.$929.07
Sprint Corp.$233.13
ACS Government Solutions Group$129.49
Computer Sciences Corp.$127.15
Science Applications International Corp.$103.20
World Wide Technology Inc.$78.36
IBM Corp.$77.89
Dell Computer Corp.$51.34

Sources for this GCN Snapshot include the General Services Administration and Input of Vienna, Va.

PIATT: The chief information officer shop at the General Services Administration has two functions. We operate much of the common infrastructure across the agency. We are also involved in setting the policies and architectures collaboratively with the rest of the agency.

Another role that I play is working with the business lines to understand how technology can be used and integrated to improve the services we offer to our customers.

One of the goals we are attempting is instituting standards across the organization. Standards are absolutely essential. Without standards, there is no predictability; there is duplication of expenditures, which means wasted money, and then we are unable to serve our customers consistently.

The essential role for GSA today is to thrill our customers in every interaction. We're not there yet, and one of the reasons is because our employees can't easily grasp information when they need it. The only way we're going to get there is by standardizing all the things that don't specifically need to be different.

That is a straightforward decision, to some degree. We are all using the same word processor, Microsoft Word. That's a standard. The fact that we can exchange documents across the agency makes it much easier to do work and focus our energies on the customer. It wasn't always that way. We have one e-mail system, so we are assured that we can send someone e-mail and it will be there.

Through the Seat Management PC outsourcing project, we found that the extremely fragmented infrastructure we had prior to the project created some challenges for our contractor. Those challenges were exacerbated by the vendor's lack of deep experience in doing work in environments such as this.

So how does an agency make its offices e-friendly'that "e" standing not just for electronic, but for ergonomic and efficient, too? The General Services Administration set up the 10,000-square-foot Adaptable Workplace Lab at its headquarters to help agencies answer that question. Among the exhibits is a raised floor with Lucite tiles that lift out to provide access to the intricate wiring and power lines needed
to support the phalanx of information technology devices'from desktop scanners to miniature supercomputers'common in federal offices.

But we are more committed than ever to the concept of seat management and the standardization that goes along with that process, particularly as we roll out new customer-centric functions across the organization. A lot of those functions will be used first at the Federal Technology Service and the Federal Supply Service. But ultimately, any system has to run on any machine anywhere at any time.

The only way you can accomplish that is to have an absolutely standardized desktop PC infrastructure across the enterprise. Therefore, despite some of our early frustrations, we are actively pursuing that goal.

We are working it from different angles. We have 50 people from GSA's regions working on a fine-grained desktop infrastructure standardization plan so we can take applications that are configured differently and make them standard.

Consider this

For example, there are at least a half-dozen ways to configure Lotus Notes on the desktop. In the initial deployment, we left it up to the local groups to determine what was best for their environment. We have gone back and said we need a standard configuration of Notes. That way, as people move from office to office, it makes it easier to recreate their systems at new locations.

We believe that standards are going to free us to focus on our customers.

Major programs

Comprehensive Human Resources Integrated System'CHRIS will replace the General Services Administration's 16-year-old human resources system. The agency will begin implementing the new system, a tweaked version of the Oracle Federal Human Resources System, late this summer.

Corporate Information Network' Through this overarching program, GSA brings networking services to users throughout the agency. Among the services available via the CIN asynchronous transfer mode backbone'provided by FTS 2001 contractor Sprint Corp.'are Lotus Domino and Notes messaging services, Web hosting, Internet conferencing and licensed software downloads.

Pegasys' Through this project, GSA is consolidating its financial and accounting administration under a single core financial system. Begun last year, the rollout of Pegasys is a multiphase effort that officials said would let GSA track transactions from initiation through auditing.

Seat Management' Through this multiple-award program, GSA has created a contract vehicle that lets agencies outsource their PC operations. GSA in mid-1998 awarded Seat contracts to eight vendors. To encourage participation, the agency negotiated the first task order, through which Litton PRC Inc. has been gradually assuming management of the agency's 1,800 PCs.

System for Tracking and Administering Real Property' The Public Buildings Service began implementing STAR in the fall of 1997 to replace the multiple legacy systems that GSA had been using to manage more than 8,000 government properties and annual rentals totaling more than $5.5 billion.


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