EIS transition already underway ... or should be

GSA brought out its star EIS customer - the Department of Agriculture -- to help explain why agencies need to start the transition process even before the $50 billion telecommunications contract is awarded this spring.

The Agriculture Department is probably the envy of nearly every other agency facing the transition from Networx to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract.

EIS will be awarded this spring and agencies have until March 2020 to transition to the contract. Given that it took six years to transition from FTS-2001 to Networx and the demand for services has probably doubled since the start of Networx, the time to plan the transition is now, said Amando Gavino, GSA’s telecom subcategory manager.

USDA actually began their transition work three years ago as EIS was just gearing up. They been planning and studying ever since. Gavino agreed that the department is ahead of the curve compared to many agencies and that’s why he brought them along to our Washington Technology Industry Day on category management.

Agriculture Deputy CIO Douglas Nash said that they are approaching EIS as an opportunity to not just transition to a new contact but to bring in new technologies, especially IP-based networks for voice, video and data needs.

“We have an extremely diverse mission,” Nash said. The department has at least one office in every county in the United States. They account for 2,300 offices. Overall, USDA has 7,000 offices, from its headquarters to one-to-two person offices for inspectors at a meat processing plants.

Most of the offices are in rural area where USDA might be the first customer asking for high bandwidth communications, he said.

Currently, the department has an enterprise-wide wide area network as its backbone. Then the various bureaus and subagencies connect to the backbone with their own WANs.

“It is not an optimal situation given today’s needs,” he said. “We are going to use EIS to modernize and flatten our networks.”

If they simple moved current networks to EIS and then tried to modernize, it would be too difficult, Nash said.

USDA is already working on a statement of work and plans to have a solicitation out in August for an EIS task order. The award will be made by January 2018.

But even with their quick start on EIS, Nash said it will be a challenge to meet the 2020 transition deadline. In fact, he indicated that 2021 is probably more realistic.

That doesn’t bode well for other agencies that are getting a later start. Granted not many agencies have the far-flung operations of USDA, but still the hard lessons of the Networx transition may not have rubbed off on all the agencies.

GSA for their part has been very proactive in encouraging agencies to act. They’ve written handbooks, provided training, worked with industry, and launched three websites.

In his presentation, Gavino made it clear that while GSA is there to help, the heavy lifting lies with the agencies and their industry partners.

Agencies need to be writing transitions plans and drafting solicitations now so they are ready to go once EIS is awarded this spring.

“The transition has already begun,” Gavino said.