FTS takes on consulting mantle
- By Jason Miller
- Aug 21, 2002
Mary Whitley, FTS' bell ringer
A member of the first class of women to be appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1976, Mary Whitley knows the difficulties of starting something new.
Now, as the first assistant commissioner for sales at the Federal Technology Service, Whitley is helping drive up the General Services Administration organization's annual revenues by nearly $1 billion. FTS brought in $6.2 billion in fiscal 2001 and is on track to reach total sales of more than $7 billion this year.
Whitley has a unique position as a government employee: She sells government services to agencies. FTS provides agencies access to telecommunications and IT contracts and manages task orders placed against the contracts.
She directs a sales team responsible for researching agency needs and submitting proposals on how FTS contracts and other services can help solve an agency's IT problems.
Before joining FTS in February 2000, Whitley was an IT program manager with the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center and director of the Federal Software Management Center, both GSA operations. She also was deputy assistant commissioner and chief operating officer at FTS' Office of IT Integration.
Before that, she served 11 years in the Army.
A native of St. Joseph, Mich., Whitley earned a master's degree in systems management from the University of Southern California and graduated from the Senior Executive Fellows Program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
GCN staff writer Jason Miller interviewed Whitley at FTS headquarters in Fairfax, Va.GCN: What tactics do you use to increase agencies' use of Federal Technology Service contracts?
WHITLEY: In my office, we're responsible for gathering customer intelligence. We follow a customer relationship management approach with agencies to develop new business.
You will have a difficult time finding an agency that doesn't currently take advantage of some of FTS' products and services. But we only have about 12.5 percent of the total IT and telecommunications market, so there is considerable room for improvement and opportunity.GCN: The IT side brought in about $6 billion in revenue last year and the telecom side about $1 billion. Why are IT services more widely used?
WHITLEY: The objective of most of the telecom services that we have provided in the past has been to reduce prices. We work hard to keep prices low, and we have been attracting customers every year. We have cut prices by 40 percent. When we can maintain our business at $1 billion, that represents attracting a lot of new customers.
The IT solutions side, though, has grown tremendously. It grows pretty predictably by about $1 billion a year in revenue.
Our industry partners have been promoting their schedule contracts with GSA, and agencies are moving to reduce administrative support by relying on us for IT acquisition services.
Last year we did $6.2 billion in revenue. This year we are well on the way to $7 billion, which indicates to me that our existing customer base finds our services valuable and comes back for more. We also have recorded $400 million in new business.GCN: What trends have you seen over the last year in how agencies use FTS contracts?
WHITLEY: We are doing a lot of cross-selling with agencies. If they bought network support last year and now they have security concerns, we talk to them about our security capabilities.GCN: What are the value-added services FTS offers?
WHITLEY: There really are four components.
The first is technical consulting because on each desk in FTS there is a pile of task orders. We have lots of examples of how to buy things intelligently, and we have learned from our mistakes.
The second is acquisition consulting, from devising a strategy to conducting the acquisition.
The third thing we do is program management. After an award, we make sure the industry partner is performing up to the standard expected, with no glitches that would cause us to change the contract or task order.
The final value-added feature is financial management. It takes a lot of time and energy to make sure bills are paid correctly and agency funds are expended in ways the agency is happy about.GCN: FTS has met some resistance to its fees and how it breaks them out. What are you doing about these concerns?
WHITLEY: I have found that whenever a potential customer starts talking about fees, we need to move the conversation to our value-added features.
We need to determine if they actually need a contracting officer or a contracting officer's technical representative to work on a project, or if they need legal support to make sure the contract is aboveboard.
If the answers to those questions are no, then I could see why they don't want to pay the fees.
We have different surcharges for different programs. Each program is supposed to cover only its costs. That's our charter; we are not supposed to make a profit.
Every year we go through a drill to set our surcharges and estimate how much business we will get on different contracts and programs. Then we figure out what our expenses will be and set the surcharges to cover them.
Some programs are more expensive than others. Commodity buying is fairly cheap. It doesn't take much time or effort, and it is efficient. On the other hand, if you are trying to run a local telecom program in a major metropolitan area, it is more expensive and takes more time.GCN: The fiscal 2003 Defense authorization bill directs the secretary of Defense to study how much money DOD spends on fees to use other agency contracts. Will this affect FTS?
WHITLEY: When we make a proposal, we give the costs and all the information available, such as time, schedule and results, so the customer can make a good business decision.
I think that is in concert with what the Defense Department is trying to achieve. I think DOD is just trying to get managers to sit down and look at their options.
I've already had conversations with the Army and the Air Force on this topic. When I talked to the contracting leadership in the Pentagon, they said they want to make good business decisions. At the installation level, whether that message is received loud and clear is up for some discussion.GCN: Talk about the knowledge management techniques you're using.
WHITLEY: In the past, we had a lot of people doing isolated research on agencies for different purposes but never sharing it across the enterprise, which wasted effort.
Now we have a customer relationship management tool from Siebel Systems Inc. of San Mateo, Calif. We are able to set up accounts for agencies, departments and bureaus. We can associate all the meetings we have with an agency, the opportunities we've found and the work we've done with the agency. We can identify the people we have spoken to, so we don't call them repeatedly, which was a complaint we heard.GCN: How have agencies' needs changed since Sept. 11?
WHITLEY: We launched a cybersecurity campaign in May, and it is running through September. FTS commissioner Sandra Bates asked us to come up with a way to let the federal community know that we have a center with 25 years of experience in information security. Plus, many of our industry partners have security expertise.
We've been working with the Transportation Security Administration. TSA accepted an approach to have a single point of contact at our agency, basically a senior executive who will coordinate GSA's response to their requirements.
We also are touching base with the Homeland Security Office. And we work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the other agencies that will go into the proposed Homeland Security Department.GCN: How has WorldCom Inc.'s situation affected FTS?
WHITLEY: We have received phone calls from agencies asking how we think it will turn out. Our response is that this is a major company that does a lot of business within the federal sector. It's in our best interest to look at their contracts and make sure they can follow through on their commitments to us.
We will continue to have discussions with agencies and WorldCom as things progress, whichever way they go, about how we are going to continue to serve our federal customers.