Seat Management: Service Delivery and the Cost-Effectiveness of Agency Desktop Environments
Seminar date:
September 29, 1999

Industry sponsors of the seminar


Federal Data Corporation


Harris Electronic Systems





Seat Can Win The Day

Seat management advocates in government and industry are defining and defending the outsourcing alternative to agency desktop procurement and operations.

The first thing that Charles Self wants you to know about seat management is that it is happening—all over the federal government.

It is happening in GSA itself, the Treasury Department, HUD, NASA, the Air Force, and it might happen “big” in the Navy and Marine Corps, where as many as 400,000 “seats” could be handled through what Self, the outspoken assistant commissioner for GSA’s Office of Inform-ation Technology, sometimes calls “desktop outsourcing.”

At the comprehensive Technology Excellence in Government (TEG) Seminar held in Washington, Self led the charge for the GSA’s governmentwide Seat Management contract. GSA seat represents half of a GWAC effort that also includes NASA’s culture-busting Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN) contract.

Overall, seat management seeks to convert the acquisition and daily system-level operation of personal computers and related peripherals, networks and many support services to a full “utility” that agencies simply contract for like phone service.

Officials from GSA, NASA, Treasury, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as many industry experts, told attendees at the September 29 TEG Seminar that seat represents the best opportunity for government to boost efficiency while employing better technology to the core missions of agencies.

One Contractor, One Neck
Seat effectively “gets the government out of the IT business at the desktop level,” said John Okay, Ph.D., a former federal IRM leader who led the conference. Okay said he believes every area of PC-related operations and support will benefit from an “outsourced” approach. The case for seat is further boosted at a time of budget reductions and the continuing depletion of IT expertise in agencies.

Seat is already boosting management efficiency while supplying federal users with better IT tools, said Pat Schambach, CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ATF is well into an agencywide seat implementation that is resulting in 4,000 users at about 200 locations using the same standard hardware, software, training, robust e-mail and Internet/intranet access systems, Schambach said.

ATF is paying $3,300 per year per seat for this tech upgrade, which he said could not have been accomplished any other way at ATF. Schambach said the biggest efficiency gains probably relate to the use of a single seat contractor (Unisys Corp.) for all PC-related situations.
“We have one neck to choke,” the CIO quipped, adding that the strength of seat at ATF is in the government/industry “team” that has formed around the project.

Seat = Planning
Almost everyone involved in seat believes it requires some business process reengineering up front, though most everyone believes BPR is a good thing. Schambach noted that because ATF seat works on a three-year “tech refresh” cycle, PC-related budgeting schedules were re-vamped to meet three-year demands.

Everyone who has been involved in seat believes there is an inherent BPR mission that occurs as both users and federal PC culture is approached. “You can’t have too much communication with the user community, and it will never be enough,” said Mark Silverstein, the ODIN project manager for the Goddard Space Flight Center.

The seat contractor for the Goddard project spent six weeks working in the user “trenches” before beginning to define desktop requirements, Silverstein said. NASA contributed all its resources to effect the conversion, including asset inventories assembled during Y2K work.

Seat might exert its biggest cultural hammer on the way PCs are first procured, experts said. Self noted that, currently, too many agencies “just buy” PCs at the end of the fiscal year with no real plan for how they will be deployed or whether they are even necessary.

Howard Stoodley, an expert in total cost of ownership benchmarking at Harris Corp., told attendees at the TEG seminar that this kind of buying has contributed to per-seat TCOs that spiral to $15,000 per year and beyond. Harris has applied exacting TCO benchmarks to PC operations in 17 federal agencies to date.

Fluff-Free Zone
Many experts believe that the inherent strength of seat as an alternative to other contracting and tech implementation approaches is that industry and government are compelled to meet mutual goals.

Self said “desktop outsourcing” might be more appropriately called “desktop partnering,” because seat invests industry with a direct stake in agency PC performance “results.”

Industry speakers agreed. Bob Mutchler, DynCorp’s program manager for a Department of Housing and Urban Development/GSA seat project, said that “true partnership, not just fluff, is the key to long term success” where seat projects will inflict significant cultural changes on agency practices.

In the early stages of the HUD Office of Inspector General project, Mutchler said that both DynCorp and HUD learned that nothing less than an “A-team” was required to both ascertain and then begin to implement complex federal PC user requirements.

Performance = Value
No one denies that seat is difficult, and Self conceded that these difficulties have been a stumbling block for seat’s proliferation in the federal government. However, many experts believe there is a wealth of lessons already learned, many in the private sector, that agencies can draw on to get the ball rolling.

Ed Emig, a CIO at Federal Data Corp., presented an eight-step “road map” drawn on FDC’s experience including four seat task orders under the GSA contract. Emig believes agency/industry partners must define objectives, assess the current environment, perform a TCO analysis, develop Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and establish a business case before proceeding with the nuts and bolts of seat implementation.

This “hard work” phase of seat has been overlooked too often, some experts said. Everett Dyer, a Unisys vice president and strong seat advocate, noted that as many as 30 percent of early seat implementations were later deemed failures because too much was promised too quickly. Dyer also said that seat will not likely reduce IT costs, but must be measured across the lifecycle of the agency mission with the value of performance boosts factored in.

“TCO studies show that agencies often have to spend more on IT to get significant cost savings,” Dyer said. He advised agencies looking only for cheaper IT to stay away from seat. Those who want overall reductions in operations costs, however, should make seat a critical element of their plan.

The Way You Go at TCO
TCO and its impact was examined by several speakers during the TEG seat management seminar. Agencies are beginning to understand that TCO is a way of measuring those areas where IT spills over into core missions to the benefit of neither, experts said.

Kate Russell, a TCO analyst with the Gartner Group, presented the general findings of 50 TCO studies from which “best practices” can be ascertained. Whether you use seat or any other form of PC implementation and contracting, Russell said that use of best practices can reduce agency TCO’s by as much as 25 percent.

This includes better practices in the area of help desk services, electronic software distribution, data extraction, system management and asset management. Russell said IT must be “governed” with a complete management plan that accounts for its entire lifecycle in a “holistic” scheme.

Mark Hagerty, NASA’s ODIN program manager, said the space agency opted for seat precisely to “get out of the asset management business” where desktop IT was concerned. Hagerty said that 50,000 standard ODIN seats have been acquired for an average of less than $2,000 per seat/per year, and that the agency has also found ways to factor power users and UNIX systems into the ODIN mix at costs that do not exceed $3,500 per year.

NASA Gets Real
“And no one has lost their job as a result of ODIN,” Hagerty added, addressing one of seat’s flash point issues, that it threatens federal jobs. In some cases, NASA seat contractors have hired existing federal IT staff at higher salaries, experts have noted, as part of their strategy in meeting the Service Level Agreements that agencies expect.

In no case has anyone reported the loss of a job due to a takeover by a seat contractor. In all cases, agencies report that valued staff has returned full attention to core missions as burdensome desktop operations tasks have been assumed by contractors.

NASA was able to get seat established largely because it looked at its situation realistically, via “full cost accounting,” Hagerty noted. About 80 NASA advocates worked two years to convince both senior management and agency PC users that ODIN would bring significant benefits, including cost savings in the “out years” of the conversion.

This “full-cost” approach to the seat business case amounts to an accounting response to the reality of IT TCO—often dominated by what Howard Stoodley of Harris Corp. called “soft costs.”

These are the costs that agencies incur as a result of poor training, inadequate help desk, spotty tech refresh, lack of standardization, unconsolidated servers, etc. Only better IT management, not more IT itself, solves these kinds of problems, experts said.

”Live” at Treasury
As a utility, seat management is the “holistic” approach that bundles these issues into a single framework and then addresses them with very specific SLAs that give agencies a contracted basis for expressing how much support (maintenance, network, configuration, training, help desk, etc.) they need.

“Service level” contracting is a relatively new approach to federal IT, which has traditionally depended on labor hour relationships with industry, explained Chris Wren, a GSA seat expert. Wren presented the seminar attendees with specific “lessons learned” and guidance culled from recent seat implementations.

And though GSA seat has gotten off to a slow start, the lessons are beginning to mount. “Pick a vendor you can work with, and have confidence in, because you really do have to work closely,” said Dale Seward, the CIO at Treasury’s headquarters who is overseeing an ODIN implementation of 1,600 seats that went “live” October 1.

Also, do not underestimate the workload that a cultural change such as seat imposes as conversion is accomplished. “I told my staff they would like their jobs a lot better next year than they do this year,” Seward quipped.

A Flexi Seat
The high-end benefits of seat include such management gains as “better organizational focus, access to better technology, accelerated reengineering benefits, and shared risks” said Gabbie Krivonak, an outsourcing director at IBM Global Services.

Seat also requires changes in “basic thinking,” including a willingness by agencies to stop managing their own resources and start measuring performance and service results, she said.

Krivonak said seat might only be as successful as the related contracting is kept flexible. During a seat lifecycle the need to make fundamental changes—to “keep up with emerging requirements for things like e-business”—will be the norm, she said.<

Indeed, if seat management faces any one hurdle that is larger than all others, it might be that agencies need to set very specific SLAs that can be closely measured and yet later be altered to accommodate an unknown future as it arrives. But with so many people in government and industry working so hard at refining this exciting new approach to IT, we can’t help thinking that, in the end, seat will win the day.

Organized and presented by:

Computer News

Government Institute

The Council For
Excellence In Government

Co-pesented by:

Federation Of Government
Information Processing Councils

Federal Web
Managers Institute, GSA

FedWorld Information Technologies/NTIS/DOC

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