The wide area network consolidation and outsourcing project already has attracted a Who's Who of Internet vendors that is likely to stimulate some new and exciting partnerships.
The five-year contract, the longest period Tennessee law allows, could easily reach the $100 million mark. The Tennessee Information Infrastructure Consortium, made up of the state's information office and two higher education systems, plans to release a request for proposals July 28 and announce the award in December.
"If I had to sum up in one phrase what we are trying to do, it would be 'affordable bandwidth on de-
mand,' " said Bradley Dugger, chief of information systems in Tennessee's Office for Information Resources, a title that amounts to the state chief information officer.
"We listened to potential vendors when they suggested we tell them what we want rather than how to do it. So we defined our needs in terms of functions, the type of service we desired, the level of bandwidth we sought in different localities," he said.
One interesting aspect of the work is the requirement to purchase the assets of existing portions of the consortium's network infrastructure.
According to pre-RFP vendor conference materials released May 20, the TNII service provider "will be requested to analyze, audit and make a determination of the feasibility of making such an acquisition as part of their overall outsourcing and network management proposal."
The consortium "is interested in having the TNII service provider assume the identified assets of the existing Consortium members' network infrastructure DTE (Data Terminal Equipment) and DCE (Data Communications Equipment) hardware and software equipment."
Vendors are feverishly working on aligning partners and redefining relationships for the broad-based effort, which requires the winner to build, operate and manage a consolidated, statewide TNII network infrastructure.
Ultimately, it will link Tennessee's three existing networks, including the state, the University of Tennessee's seven sites and the Tennessee Board of Regents' nearly 40 institutions.
Among the 36 vendors attending the pre-RFP conference were AT&T, BellSouth, Cisco, Electronic Data Systems Corp., IBM, Lockheed Martin Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc., MCI Communications, NCR Corp., Sprint, Science Applications International Corp. and WorldCom.
One sign of the procurement's competitiveness was the number of companies contacted that declined comment on the effort.
The goal of creating an "interoperable network of networks for all the state's citizens" became the rallying cry of the Tennessee Information Infrastructure Consortium, which was created in 1994. This group arose from the realization that cooperation and consolidation are the best approaches for connecting the different statewide networks operated and managed by the information resources office, the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Regents.
After listening to vendors, a technology consulting firm was hired to assist in developing the RFP and specifications. That task went to Network Evolutions Inc., a small, 20-person, minority-owned firm in Reston, Va. Its $125,000 contract calls for the company to help the TNII consortium outsource and procure a statewide area network, including turnkey management and support services.
"Part of the uniqueness of this project is the mixture of technology and politics, the need to integrate three state networks with the support of the governor and the legislature. Less than a dozen states have done this now in different ways, including Iowa and North Carolina," said David Kim, Network Evolutions president and a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert.
Kim noted some of the vendors are struggling to meet the requirements of the anticipated RFP because the tasks called for may demand they work with competitors. In fact, he feels the winning bid may well come from a consortium of vendors, made up of software, hardware, service providers and telecommunications firms.
"The beauty of the TNII solicitation is that probably no one vendor can do everything," said Kim. "This is not just a bandwidth solicitation but management of the network from end to end."
Two vendor representatives willing to discuss the project were Fred Brooks, an account executive with Unisys Corp., Brentwood, Tenn., and Tony Todesco, a partner with NCR Networking Solutions Group, Fort Washington, Pa.
Admitting that the project's size added to its attraction, Brooks said the winning vendor or team could leverage the contract for additional work among Tennessee's business community.
"This type of work certainly fits what Unisys does, for example, remote network monitoring services, fault notification and problem resolution. We also have a fairly good start at integration," Brooks said. "The goal of being a benefit to the citizens of Tennessee and the business community is certainly something we support."
Todesco said the consortium's solicitation presents some challenges for which NCR's Networking Solutions Group could provide solutions.
"We are currently involved in several large integration and implementation projects in both the public and private sectors. The most significant difference, if any, is that the TNII will involve more design and engineering work," he said.
Probably the most significant challenge will be implementing and supporting the network, according to Todesco. Another challenge will be getting enough resources into Nashville in a timely manner. "We are already planning for this by teaming with subcontractors," said Todesco.
For Dugger, there are three keys to the success the project has enjoyed thus far.
First, there must be a clear vision of where you are going before you start out, one shared with a sponsor and the cooperating organizations. The two university systems and the state worked together on the shared vision that was discussed on a nontechnical level.
Second, consensus on a business plan must be developed among the leaders of the major players, including the government, the chancellor of the University of Tennessee and the president of the board of regents. "We built that consensus under the previous administration, and kept it together by focusing on the business plan," said Dugger.
The third key, he said, "was selling the project to the legislature, telling them what we were doing. We did not need a lot of new money but were redirecting funds," Dugger said.
"We also tried to be upfront with the vendor community and not surprise them, informing them about what we know and where we were going with it," Dugger said.