Upson Touts Online Buying Scheme

Upson Touts Online Buying Scheme<@VM>Profile: Don Upson

Don Upson

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

The commonwealth of Virginia plans to streamline the way it buys information technology goods and services by shifting buying responsibility to the Department of Technology and making its purchases online, said Donald Upson, Virginia's secretary of technology.

Gov. Jim Gilmore is expected to make a decision within two months on a proposal that would transfer authority to buy IT hardware, software and services from the Department of General Services to the Department of Technology. These purchases can take a year or longer under current procedures, too slow for today's fast-changing technology world, Upson said.

"We have to be able to trade out generations of technology over the course of a year. We can't do that now," Upson said in an interview with Washington Technology.

As secretary of technology, Upson is responsible for coordinating IT planning and policy for the state. Since his appointment in May 1998, Upson has tried to use his cabinet position to bring together IT stakeholders inside and outside government "to create an information-age society within the commonwealth of Virginia."

Whenever possible, Upson trumpets Virginia's role as a leading technology center. Numerous Internet companies make their home in the state, including Dulles-based powerhouse America Online. Many leading systems integrators, such as American Management Systems Inc., Computer Sciences Corp., Electronic Data Systems Corp., Science Applications International Corp. and TRW Inc., also have located their headquarters or major regional offices in Northern Virginia.

"We've got to let the world know that we're more than horse farms and tobacco fields," he said.

If procurement authority is transferred to Upson's department, it would begin purchasing IT goods and services online before year's end. His office already is reviewing options for performing the work in-house, setting up a partnership with the private sector or outsourcing the electronic procurement system to industry.

And it would not be necessary to run a pilot program before moving to such a system, he said. "This isn't Lewis and Clark. It's being done all over the country. Everyone knows how to do it," he said.

While Virginia is not looking at the electronic mall concept now, Upson said he is open to the idea because states get increased buying power by banding together to make their purchases. Currently, Massachusetts is heading an E-Mall pilot project with several other states to test the feasibility of cooperative buying.

If electronic procurement proves successful for IT goods and services, other types of government purchases probably should be put online, too, Upson said.

Upson has been busy chairing the Governor's Commission on Information Technology. The commission, which consists of 25 leaders in the technology industry, is helping to guide both public and private efforts to develop a statewide IT strategy, train a capable work force and put into place laws and regulations to promote the IT industry.

The first commission meeting in December led to recommendations that were incorporated in the Virginia Internet Policy Act, a series of related bills that were signed into law in March by Gilmore. Among its provisions: the legislation outlawed unsolicited bulk e-mails, known as spamming; extended privacy protections to the Internet; and enhanced penalties for the use of encryption in committing crimes.

Several states are considering legislation modeled after Virginia's Internet law, including Colorado, Florida, New York, Rhode Island and Texas, said Upson.

The commission also is examining recommendations for training and maintaining a skilled IT work force. One would provide incentives to businesses to train workers; another would strengthen laws to enforce separation agreements when workers leave companies before fulfilling obligations tied to their training.

The commission will report on these recommendations at a meeting in September at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

A chief goal of the commission has been to bring business executives together from different regions of the state to help solve each other's problems, Upson said.

"One of Gov. Gilmore's priorities is that we're not going to be pitting regions against regions any more in Virginia. We have regional competencies, but there's one state," he said.

Upson also touted the state's partnership with AMS of Fairfax to re-engineer the state's tax collection and services. Begun in July 1998, the benefits-funded project was not expected to generate additional revenue for the state until the second year. But the project started generating in revenue in October 1998 and has pulled in $5.2 million in additional collections, said Danny Payne, the state tax commissioner.

AMS five-year, $122.9 million contract will be paid with the revenue generated by the project, and the state expects to reap $50 million to $60 million annually in additional revenue after the work is completed, said Payne.

Benefits-funded projects ? a kind of hybrid of outsourcing ? are a great way for states to improve their IT capabilities, Upson said. "Let the private sector come in and work side by side, and modernize the system and train the employees and get a good profit and leave," he said.

State officials are reviewing proposals from telecommunications companies to provide services to state and local government entities. A key criterion for judging the proposals will be their planned investment in high bandwidth infrastructure in rural areas, said Upson.

Officials would not reveal the companies that submitted bids, but they said the contract is valued at about $25 million annually. Plans call for a multiyear contract award to be made in early 2000.Age: 44

Family: Wife, Cynthia Upson; daughter,4

College/Major: California State University at Chico, double major in economics and foreign affairs

First Job: Legislative aide to Congressman Frank Horton

What's the most important aspect of your current job? To help define a new role for government in the new information age.

What sites have you bookmarked?

What's the one business tool you could not make it though the day without?
The telephone
What technology has most affected your life both personally and professionally? The PC

What is your favorite movie?
"Lawrence of Arabia"

What book have you read recently?
"Wizards and Glass," by Stephen King

What's your favorite place for lunch?
Sam & Harry's, Tyson's Corner, Va.

Where do you normally eat lunch?
Mike's Sandwich Cart, Richmond, Va.

How many hours do you put in during a normal work week? Too many.

What type of car do you drive? BMW

What pets do you own and what are their names? One cat, Katze

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