All ears: Industry seeks answers at upcoming Networx summit

"We're doing everything we possibly can to learn from the lessons of the past and to create an environment that will allow us to transition as efficiently as possible to the Networx environment," says John Johnson, acting assistant commissioner for Integrated Technology Services at GSA

Rick Steele

When the General Services Administration holds its Networx Transition Summit early next month, industry members expect GSA to tell them what steps it is taking to help federal agencies smoothly switch from the FTS2001 telecommunications contract to the Networx program.

"If this procurement is not done right, there could be massive failure on the transition and administration of the contract," said Ray Baxter, director of business development at Sprint Nextel Corp.

Sprint Nextel, AT&T Inc., Qwest Communications International Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are bidding on both the Universal and Enterprise portions of the 10-year, $20 billion Networx program, which will replace FTS2001 for governmentwide telecom products and services. Level 3 Communications Inc. is bidding on the Enterprise part. GSA plans to issue awards for Universal and Enterprise in March and May 2007, respectively.

'Long, hard, costly'

During the last major telecom contract transition from FTS2000 to FTS2001, many agencies resisted change and put off preparations and decisions to the last minute. The transition was rife with delays and increased telecom costs. That effort took more than 24 months and lost approximately $74 million in savings, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued in June on the adoption of transition planning practices.

The transition was a "long, hard, costly slog," said John Johnson, GSA's acting assistant commissioner for Integrated Technology Services. GSA learned it needed more upfront planning, and had to set clearer expectations for the agencies and get them engaged early, he said.

If those steps are taken, "we could perhaps overcome many of the obstacles that we faced during the transition from FTS2000 to FTS2001," Johnson said.

Johnson was principal representative for the Defense Department on the FTS- 2000/2001 Interagency Management Council and served as Defense Department transition manager for FTS2001, where he directed the switch of the department's FTS2000 voice, video and data services to FTS2001 and the Defense Information System Network.

As GSA's former Federal Technology Service assistant commissioner for service development and service delivery, Johnson managed the development of new network service programs and the FTS2001 program's operations.

Let's hear it

At the September summit, industry executives will want to hear GSA's take on how inventories will be handled.

Many agencies are not aware of their leased or purchased inventory, such as telephony equipment, routers or VoIP equipment, Baxter said.

FTS2001 required contractors to maintain inventories of their services, so the information would be available for the next transition, said Tony Bardo, chairman of the Industry Advisory Council's shared interest group on networks and telecommunications. He also is assistant vice president of government solutions at Hughes Network Systems LLC of Germantown, Md.

However, these preparations won't cover services, such as wireless, that weren't part of FTS2001 but are part of Networx, he said.

Guidance on inventory management and validation processes was one area GSA had not yet fully addressed, according to the GAO report. GSA will have a half-hour session on inventory validation at the summit.

Industry also wants to hear about the different strategies that agency users are considering for Networx regarding emergency preparedness, continuity of operations, network redundancy and resilience, support of teleworking initiatives, alternative network technologies and network security services, Bardo said.

Another topic of interest is the assistance and incentives GSA will offer agencies to prepare early for the transition. GSA does not have a general fund to offset the agencies' costs of transition to Networx as it did for FTS2001, Baxter said.

"Doesn't [John Johnson] think he needs some kind of transition incentives for agencies, and shouldn't they be known before that contract award?" said Diana Gowen, Qwest's senior vice president of government services sales.

GSA and the agencies have agreed on what each is responsible for paying, and have laid out a process where the payments will be made based on transition success, Johnson said.

"As they proceed to transition, they will be reimbursed for some of the costs that we have agreed to pay for," Johnson said. "They're also motivated to take advantage of the significant technologies and services that will be available through the Networx program."

Baxter added that industry wants to hear GSA talk about other assistance it will provide.
"Is it purely planning [assistance], or are they going to develop teams to assist?" he said.

The Interagency Management Council, a group of senior federal executives that advises GSA's administrator on telecommunications matters, has a transition working group that is focused on "making sure this transition happens as efficiently and effectively as possible," Johnson said.

Industry also wants GSA to discuss the task order competition process, so agency contracting officers give every awardee a fair chance to be considered. GSA will have a 45-minute session about the fair process at the Networx summit.

Gowen said she wondered whether 45 minutes would be adequate time, and whether GSA had given any further thought to how competitions between vendors on the Universal and Enterprise contracts would be done.

Johnson expects a mixed crowd of 600 telecom consultants, industry executives and federal agency officials to attend the transition summit. GSA is holding the summit along with the Interagency Management Council Sept. 6-7 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Reston, Va.

About 65 to 70 government agency transition managers, who participate in bimonthly meetings, will attend the summit, said Karl Krumbholz, GSA's acting assistant commissioner for service development and service delivery.

The summit will be a chance for them to "summarize and encapsulate all of the activities they need to be aware of" in making the transition work for their agencies, he said.

Krumbholz said the summit is a continuation of transition planning that GSA and the agencies have done for more than two years.

The Networx Transition Summit also will feature panel discussions on the transition's mechanics and its transformation aspect as well as other sessions, such as transition and the Federal Information Security Management Act and process measurement.

"We're doing everything we can to learn from the lessons of the past, and to create an environment that will allow us to transition as efficiently as possible to the Networx environment," Johnson said.

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

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