Thomas R. Temin
Outsourcing, particularly seat management, is a controversial topic because it invokes changes in ownership, power, jobs, budgets and culture.
Too often, seat management is sold as a panacea for whatever ails an agency.
Ever read the label on Angostura bitters? The distilled substance is touted as a flavor enhancer for nearly every food group and cocktail you can name. At one time, it was sold as a cure for everything from fatigue to flatulence. Even today, the company's Web site states, 'Angostura aromatic bitters is versatile beyond belief.'
Kind of reminds me of the claims made about seat management.
Now, I like Angostura bitters in my bourbon, but I wouldn't sprinkle it on, say, breakfast cereal or ice cream.
Seat management, regardless of the contract you use to buy services, likewise must be applied to what it does best and held back from what it can't do.
What it can't do is absolve agency management from, well, management.
Don't just take it from me. Listen to George Vaveris, a 25-year federal IT veteran at the Patent and Trademark Office and the Justice Department, now a vice president at Getronics Government Solutions of McLean, Va.
'Seat management can never supplant certain functions,' Vaveris said at a recent conference. You can't use it to set IT policy, to instill the discipline of a common operating environment or, in many cases, to support large-scale R&D activities, he said.
Managers also can exert a lot of control over what their agencies pay for seat management'provided they keep policies and allowable operating systems in-house. As Vaveris put it: 'The more standardized you are, the less risk you have. The less risk you have, the less you pay.'
The biggest seat management deal of them all is the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. If everything goes according to plan, literally hundreds of thousands of PC seats will be outsourced.
Some in and out of the Navy have said'perhaps a bit reflexively'that NMCI's pricing is too high. To evaluate pricing and services objectively, the Navy, like any outsourcer, must first have control of its own environment and knowledge of its costs.
Thomas R. TeminEditorial director