Prepare to survive

Experience shows planning critical to making Networx work

By the numbers

Networx
» 10-years, $20 billion

» 50 core services

» Winners: unknown

FTS2001
» Eight-years, $5 billion
» 27 core services
» Winners: MCI and Sprint

Gordon Durflinger of CC-Ops (left) and Kendall Jones of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service talk at the GSA Networx Transition Summit, held to prepare agencies for the move to the new telecommunications contract.

Rick Steele

In the late 1990s, when the Environmental Protection Agency was planning to transition its telecommunications services from FTS2000 to FTS2001, the agency wasn't very concerned with new features and offerings. Instead, said David Bittenbender, a former EPA official, the agency wanted to avoid outages.

"The primary driver wasn't [which] services were available in FTS2001," Bittenbender said. "It was: How do I get through this and make sure I don't come out of the entire process with injuries?"

Bittenbender is vice president and CIO of Computer Sciences Corp.'s networks division. He worked in telecommunications at EPA during the regional transition to FTS2000, and later at the Justice Department where he helped plan the transition to FTS2001.

Bittenbender and other former government telecom officials shared their hard-earned wisdom at a Sept. 6 and 7 General Services Administration conference on the transition to Networx. The 10-year, $20 billion contract is set to replace FTS2001 when it is awarded next year. About 1,000 agency and industry officials attended the conference, the official kickoff to transition planning, GSA said.

'Don't close the door'
Networx will supply a range of telecom services nationwide under its Universal part, and offer a mix of specialized IP or wireless services in specific geographical areas under its Enterprise part.

Networx features more than 50 core services, far more than the 27 services offered under the FTS2001 contracts, which were to expire at the end of 2006 and early 2007. Those contracts have been extended by bridge contracts, so that agencies can continue to have services until they start using the Networx contract. It also will have different back-office requirements.

MCI, now Verizon Communications Inc., and Sprint Corp., now Sprint Nextel Corp., are the incumbents on FTS2001. Along with AT&T Inc. and Qwest Communications International Inc., they have submitted bids for the Universal and Enterprise portions of Networx. GSA will issue multiple awards for Universal services in March and for Enterprise services in May.

Agencies should aim for a balance of what they need in telecom services and the innovative, alternative solutions that some vendors will offer, Louis Cantaloupo said. Cantaloupo, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is a senior project manager in strategy and organization development for Science Applications International Corp.

"We're finding too many procurements are wound too tightly, and very often the agency is so concerned with getting what it wants and needs [that it] wipes out the opportunity for industry to provide an out-of-the-box solution," said Cantaloupo, who helps support agencywide transformation programs and projects at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We would urge, in fact, procurements that don't close that door completely, because your agency will eventually need those out-of-the-box solutions," he said.

Agencies must spend their transition support money on planning, executing and coordinating efforts to move to Networx, and should not take too long with planning, said Dan Smith, vice president of program management at Verizon.

"It's no secret that when we look back at FTS2001, the agencies that finished early and had a less painful transition are the ones that started first," said Smith, who was director of government markets at MCI during the previous FTS transition. "If you're sitting in the audience thinking about what you've done with your transition, and you can't quite come up with a laundry list of activities, I want you to feel a little nervous."

Smith also stressed the importance of getting buy-in across the agencies and helping to ensure a successful transition by convincing end users and executives of the benefits of switching to Networx.

"FTS2001, by any standards, was the largest transition in the history of telecommunications," Smith said. "Probably the biggest thing I learned was that agencies that had buy-in and support for the transition had a higher success rate than those who fought it."

Success Steps

A successful transition, according to Gordon Durflinger, vice president of business development at IT solutions provider Computer Consulting Operations Specialists Inc., depends on four key elements: inventory, planning, communications and execution.

Agencies should have an accurate inventory of their IT infrastructure and services, and should prepare their service-provider selection criteria based on that inventory and their IT requirements, he said.

Durflinger retired in March from the Agriculture Department, where he was transition manager for the last two telecom network transitions. Agencies should communicate their plans with management, GSA and vendors, then follow them, he said.

Durflinger also tacked on a caveat: "If you've done everything the best that you can in the inventory, the planning and the communicating, you'll be sure to have as painless a transition as you can have. But I guarantee you, no matter how much planning, how much you've done ? the transition will not be painless."

GSA has included some available back-office systems tools to help the agencies through the transition, said Charles Brock, president of RC Brock Consulting. One such tool is a project order-tracking code for service orders entered into the system. The code will let agencies check their orders' status and pull up other orders associated with a particular project.

"GSA and the [transition working group] representatives that have crafted Networx really have a lot of tools for the agencies to use this time that weren't there before," said Brock, who spent 24 of his 30 years in the telecom industry in the federal government.

Agencies also should use the online portal for placing orders instead of e-mailing or faxing orders to Networx vendors, Brock said. By using the portal, carriers' personnel do not have to re-enter their requests, which opens the door to errors.

"Transitions are disruptive," Verizon's Smith said. "We all know that, because we've lived through it. But there are many tools in that case to limit it. Hopefully, we can do that with Networx."

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

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