Networx on the brink of transforming federal telecom

After seemingly endless delays, modifications and hitches, agencies only have about a year left to switch to Networx. The deadline is looming at a time when budgets are shrinking and technology is keeping up its relentless pace of change.

But Susan Zeleniak, president of Verizon Federal, is taking it all in stride as she prepares for the transition from FTS 2001 to Networx and the subsequent transformation of government communications.

Zeleniak recently spoke with contributing editor Sami Lais about the state of Networx today and some of the promise it holds for tomorrow.

WT: Let’s start with how slowly the Networx transition has been moving.

ZELENIAK: Let me start by saying that I think it is moving. There are still a lot of agencies that need to make a decision, but there also are many that have decided and are moving down the road to transition at a very good pace. Once an agency makes a decision and finalizes the project plan with the vendor, I think progress steps along pretty nicely.

Secondly, most of the bids we worked on in the second half of last year have not been awarded yet. There was a large flurry of activity late last summer and into the fall, and many of those remain open. I think agencies are trying to make sure they’ve made the best choice because most of them intend for this decision to hold up for the next eight to 10 years.

We expect many of the remaining awards to be made quickly, and we’re prepared. If five agencies award all at once, we’ve got the personnel ready to start moving right away.

WT: Do you have any advice, tips or tactics for agencies on how they could speed their transition to Networx?

ZELENIAK: I think it comes down to having a clear statement of requirements because then vendors can respond quickly, evaluate quickly and implement quickly.

I say that, but I know it’s a complex task and agencies have a lot on their plate. Part of the answer is dedicating resources to the project. A lot of agencies can have trouble doing that because they did not get new resources to implement new networks. They’re trying to look at what new technologies they should employ, but the world of technology has a lot going on, and many of the agencies are just very stretched.

WT: Do you see the award pace picking up now?

ZELENIAK: There are several awards pending. There are some that got protested that now need to be done again, and we’re waiting for the agencies to come back out with a statement of work so we can get busy on responding to that.

WT: Do you typically have to start from the beginning after a protest?

ZELENIAK: It all depends on the agency’s approach. We’re going to respond to whatever they say. In some cases, they may start over, and in some cases, they may request that just certain parts of it be revised. It’s really an agency decision. It’s their contracting officers’ [decision].

WT: I understand that Verizon bid on a contract for voice and data for more than 20,000 people at the Environmental Protection Agency. They’re ready for the data transition, and they’re in the final stages of preparing to implement the voice transition. They’ve even done some training on using the Verizon portal while the agency investigates the feasibility of a new technology that could expand communications flexibility.

ZELENIAK: The agency is reviewing that, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it, but I will say that we are waiting for further direction from the agency.

WT: Getting the transition done while also tweaking the technology to expand current and future capabilities is more of a transformation than a simple transition. With a bit more than a year to the deadline for switching to Networx, are you seeing agencies going for the simple transition or trying to lay the groundwork for transformation now when it might cost less?

ZELENIAK: We’re seeing both. Sometimes I see both in the same opportunity. For example, an agency might be using some of what it had in the past but enhancing it or maybe adding to it — adding more security or network management, or adding remote access to the network. Also, a lot of agencies have already done some transformation, like from a frame kind of network to a [Multiprotocol Label Switching] network.

Now, as part of their fair opportunity [award process], they’re building on what they’ve already done.…

We absolutely see people who are doing like for like, and we absolutely see people who are thinking about the next layer and making sure they include that in their evaluation so they are prepared to move forward on their own schedule.

Networx has a lot of transformational services — significant collaboration tools, teleworking tools, security opportunities, call-center enhancement — which we expect agencies to take advantage of once they have finished the primary transition of their networks.

We sort of understand that that will be their pattern: Get the first phase done and then start to think about what other things Networx offers. But at this point, they need to get the basics done.

WT: Teleworking has been in the news recently. Verizon did a safe teleworking event on Inauguration Day, and Qwest just acquired a company that does secure teleworking. How much interest are you seeing for telework services through Networx?

ZELENIAK: I’m glad you brought this up. It’s an important area for government — not only for teleworking but also for continuity of operations and disaster recovery capabilities or for events where there’s been any kind of disruption.

One of the things we tried to do with our Networx services for teleworking was to make them end-to-end solutions, to provide everything the teleworker needs — from the access and secure authentication to encryption of the data to the help desk and maintenance.

We try to bundle it into a service that’s available at lower or higher levels of security and that can be configured for the needs of the agency. The same teleworking model is not going to work for every agency.

WT: You’re saying a good solution for the Agriculture Department would be significantly different from what the CIA might need.

ZELENIAK: Yes, but also, in some cases it’s true teleworking and in some cases it’s remote working. So if it’s the Department of Agriculture, for example, it might be for someone who’s going out to do meat inspections at a plant. The ability to give them secure remote access and encrypt the data and do that while they are on site — that’s a really important feature for a remote worker. They don’t have to be in the office now to transmit all their information or to get information.

WT: Is there much crossover between what you offer commercially and what you’re offering the government through Networx?

ZELENIAK: The Networx security is definitely higher. The requirements of the federal government are very high — certainly attainable, but very, very high.

Commercially, you would expect to see this kind of security in the financial industry, for example.

WT: There was a push in government to make teleworking available, but it had mixed success. Are you seeing it paid more than lip service?

ZELENIAK: We see a lot of interest in this technology. Congress is promoting it; it’s coming up as part of green initiatives.
I was looking at a list of top [chief information officer] objectives in the federal government this year, and No. 1 was the attraction and retention of [information technology] employees.

My thinking is that the ability to telework one day a week or whatever is an attractive concept to people who are used to having that capability in the commercial world. It’s a good thing for the government to be able to offer it as an inducement to attract and retain top high-tech employees.

And it’s one of the kinds of follow-on services agencies have in mind for the future while they’re trying to make their basic transition today.

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