Agencies preparing for next evolution in telecom services

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 5:08 pm

Agencies spend between $5 billion-to-$7 billion a year on telecommunications services.

But phone and other telecom services are basic commodities ripe for innovation and the possibility for further cost savings.

That’s one of the goals of the next generation telecommunications contract the General Services Administration is developing.

GSA is developing the Network Services 2020 (NS2020) program to replace the current Networx telecommunications contract. Networx expires in 2017.

While NS2020 still is in the planning stages, GSA already knows there are few pieces the program must have.

Advertisement

Frank Tiller, the acting director of network services at GSA, said Thursday the agency would like to see the government move to a standardized telecommunications network infrastructure.

“Right now, people within the government have a mixture of networking technologies, and if we can get to a ubiquitous Internet Protocol based and as much as standard definitions are applied, it offers interoperability and those kind of things,” Tiller said at the Federal IT and Networks Summit sponsored by MobileGov in Washington. “It’s more just moving away from older networking technologies to one standard way of doing networking.”

New organizational structure

As part of that move to a more standard way of doing networking, Tiller said GSA is looking to change how it delivers IP services.

“Frankly, I think GSA is not really set up to deliver IP because we are organized and structured around the old time-division multiplexing environment where we had local service and wide area services,” Tiller said. “We are rethinking about how we might organize and facilitate the move to IP services. Part of that is moving to our new strategy effort and eventually we will come up with a whole portfolio of contracts to address this space.”

He added changing the way GSA is organized and delivering a common Internet-based infrastructure services will help GSA become more efficient. It also will make it easier for customer agencies to buy these services.

Tiller said GSA also is looking at benchmarking to show customer agencies what the best prices are or the quickest way to buy these services.

GSA will try to make the transition from Networx to NS2020 go more smoothly than the transition from FTS2001 to Networx.

As of May 31, 95 percent of all agencies connections were fully transitioned to Networx from the FTS 2001 contract, though nearly three years late.

Applying lessons learned

Agencies found the transition to the Networx contract to be much more complicated than initially thought.

Tiller said GSA learned some lessons from the experience over the past six years and will apply it to the Network Services 2020 contract.

“We also are looking at some other ideas like how to stagger this or phase this out. It’s really kind of illogical that the government would take $2 billion worth of telecommunications services and say on this day in May we will move all that to a new kind of vehicle or something,” he said. “We are looking at ways to phase or stagger out how this is done like task orders that are staggered or parallel acquisition that can save industry and government the fact there is this tremendous peak they have to deal with.”

Tiller said GSA hopes to provide decision support services to help customer agencies buy and support the new network services.

Tiller, however, didn’t offer any update on the timeline for the NS2020 program or acquisition.

GSA said earlier this year that it had launched an interagency advisory panel consisting of deputy chief information officers, senior procurement executives and others who have more of a day-to-day oversight and interaction with the network.

The committee has been meeting monthly to further develop the strategy and milestones.

Voice-as-a-service pilots

While GSA is developing the strategy for NS2020, agencies are starting to build off the popularity and the success of cloud computing.

Dave Cheplick, the director of telecommunications at the Veterans Affairs Department, said the agency is about to embark on several pilots to test voice-as- a-service.

“How do you deliver this particular aspect of our telephony strategy? The question is you have to be able to get ahead of the curve,” he said. “The way you get ahead of the curve is to build the appropriate infrastructure capability that will be scalable and agile to the future. It’s one of the big critical hurdles that we have in front of us to see whether or not this strategy is in fact going to work. Those of us in the room who are aware of this are probably asking the same question, can agencies get ahead of the curve on behalf of these telephony investments?”

Other agencies are taking a different approach.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is moving many of its backend administrative systems to the cloud.

Rick Holgate, ATF’s chief information officer, said the bureau’s migration to email-as-a-service will save money and provide more capabilities.

“We’ve also looked at a lot of opportunities to expand remote access opportunities for our users. A few things like, not just virtual private network access, but things like virtual desktop and other types of capabilities that disconnect the services that we are providing from the device that the user uses to access those services,” he said. “That opens up a lot more opportunities for telework. It provides a lot more flexibility for our users in the sense we don’t necessarily always have to be the ones providing the device through which our users are accessing these services. It allows us to be more cost effective in the enterprise in the way we deliver those services to our users.”

Evolving definition

Holgate added ATF also is considering moving apps to the cloud. Many of those are hosted by a vendor today so the change wouldn’t be that dramatic, but there are security, privacy and connectivity challenges, he said.

Holgate also said ATF updated its outsourcing relationship with its vendor that provides the network managed services. He said ATF partnered with the Marshals Service, and opened up the contract to the rest of the Justice Department and other federal agencies. This would help ATF receive greater economies of scale and create a broader sharing platform for end user devices and services.

Holgate said this approach also will help expose more data to users and others in the law enforcement partners.

In the end, Holgate said all of these efforts are about evolving what it means to be on the network and in the enterprise-something nearly every agency is starting to consider.

RELATED STORIES:

GSA changes its model for the next generation telecom effort

Networx in home stretch, but another extension is possible

ATF mulls virtual desktops for contractors in cost reduction effort