'Bean counter' heads FTS systems shop

'Bean counter' heads FTS systems shop

Robert Suda says technology will help IT Solutions Office improve its operations and keep employees happy

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

Robert Suda has set himself three goals at the Federal Technology Service's IT Solutions Office: encourage electronic commerce, improve customer service and focus on employee satisfaction.

Robert Suda encourages flexible schedules and telecommuting for FTS' IT Solutions Office.

That's a far cry from adding up profit and loss columns, which he did as FTS' chief financial officer before April, when he took on the job of assistant commissioner for IT Solutions in the General Services Administration.

Managing money is more challenging than counting it, he said. There are other gray areas.

Suda's job is to oversee a line of GSA's information technology business that will generate an estimated $4 billion this year. Like any manager, he is expected to keep business growing, satisfy customers and ensure that there is enough money to fund his operations.

The IT Solutions Office includes the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (FEDSIM), the Federal Computer Acquisition Center and the Federal Acquisition Services for Technology, all of which help agencies select and procure IT goods and services. The centers can draw upon any government procurement arrangement, not just FTS vehicles or GSA schedule contracts.

Suda replaced Charles Self, who left the post to become deputy FTS commissioner.

Under former commissioner Dennis Fischer, the term 'recovering bean counter' became popular at FTS, and Suda is another example of a bean counter selected to run a business. He has held a variety of financial positions since joining GSA in 1977, most recently as director of finance before becoming CFO for FTS in 1998.

The financial focus is helpful in an agency that must pay its own bills without help from congressional appropriations, Suda said. FTS acts as a reseller of commercial products, charging a fee for its services.

'Ninety-seven percent of our money goes to private industry,' Suda said.

Driving up revenue without raising the 3 percent overhead fee is going to require more automation at FTS, Suda said. Although automation products are part of the office's stock in trade, automation has not been a focus in-house.

'We're still doing a lot of things in the old paper process,' he said. 'We are using e-commerce now with the IT Solutions Shop.'

The IT Solutions Shop, a Web purchase and ordering system for FTS programs, came online in November 1997.

'That's a first-generation system,' he said. Suda wants to add back-end functions such as tracking and relationship management in its second generation.

Work from home

He said he thinks technology can help keep employees happy as well as productive, and he will encourage broader use of flexible schedules and telecommuting among his employees.

About a third of the FEDSIM staff now does some telecommuting each week, either from home or from other remote sites, and Suda wants to expand that.

'Management is really embracing it,' he said of the new working environment. Resistance comes more from the workers than from their managers. 'They say, 'If I'm working at home, I'm not seen or heard. How am I going to get rewarded?''

The key to ensuring worker recognition is to create metrics for gauging productivity, which FEDSIM director Tim McCurdy has done, Suda said.

Reverse auctions could be another tool to help IT Solutions operate more efficiently. The auctions, usually online, let qualified vendors bid in real time to drive prices down. They can produce low prices as well as generate data about purchase and cost trends.

'There's a big hole right now in that area,' Suda said.

Gathering and evaluating the online data will give the government leverage in purchasing, plus help his office anticipate customer needs, he said.

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