A second bite at the Networx apple?

L ike all good action movies, agencies are rebooting (pun intended) their telecommunications contracts.

While movies such as Batman, Superman and Spider-Man keep bringing on new actors to play the masked superheroes, agencies are looking at their telecom services and wondering what new — or old actors — are out there to give their telecommunications services a little more pizzazz.

Remember — I know I didn’t — it’s been almost eight years since the General Services Administration awarded the huge next generation telecommunications contract, Networx to five carriers.

GSA has made it clear the follow-on to Networx, called Network Services 2020, will live up to its name with most agencies not completely migrating to the new contract for another five years.

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In the meantime, the telecommunications landscape continues to evolve.

“We are talking to a lot of customers about what next big things are and what to expect on the next contracts,” said Jeff Mohan, executive director of GSA programs for AT&T, in an interview with Federal News Radio.

The Agriculture Department is trying to get ahead of the pack. It issued a request for information in November asking for insights from vendors into its networks as it decides how best to move to the major contract under NS2020, the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS).

“The department is planning to overhaul its enterprisewide telecommunications network by creating the Universal Telecommunications Network (UTN) 2020 in order to modernize the infrastructure and keep up with ever increasing demands for services and bandwidth,” USDA wrote in the RFI, which was due Dec. 5. “Key to the UTN 2020 will be consolidation and streamlining of services and equipment, and the incorporation of enterprise technologies and solutions.”

USDA plans to begin the transition as soon as the EIS contract is ready for use.

“In order to do a technology refresh or take advantage of changing technology, they have to do a new fair opportunity and I think USDA’s RFI is one of the first ones that I expect to see,” said Lisa Crawford Bruch, CenturyLink’s vice president of sales and marketing, in an interview with Federal News Radio. “I know there are others that are being discussed where agencies are going to take advantage of Networx contract to get upgrade to technology or to the way they buy services overall. From the agency’s perspective, they are always looking out over the longest haul and where ultimately they need to go.”

GSA has given industry some dates to look forward to for the roll out of EIS.

GSA expects to issue the draft request for proposals for EIS in February, the final solicitation in late fiscal 2015 and make awards in late 2016.

Vendors said GSA already is planning a three-year extension for Networx since both Universal and Enterprise expire in early 2017 — giving agencies about three years to transition from one contract to the other. It took agencies almost six years to move to Networx from the FTS-2001 contract, so three years is optimistic on GSA’s part for sure.

“GSA’s intent is to do the transition to the new contract more quickly,” Mohan said. “The major driver is planning for the next contractor, but there are some agencies made awards under Networx and said until some date certain they will use the contract, while others said until Networx expires. So some agencies have a date certain that they have to do something about their current contracts under Networx. They can extend it and do other things without wholesale procurement.”

CenturyLink’s Crawford Bruch said there are a lot of lessons learned that GSA, agencies and providers should heed as they prepare for this next transition.

“GSA and agencies need to take good advantage of the opportunity to start planning now for what their evolutionary service delivery model would look like as they provide services to the citizen,” she said. “From a historical point of view, every one of the predecessor programs needed to be extended. So, rather than wait to come up against the brick wall and have to do something at the last minute, GSA is getting the extension done up front and that give agencies more planning time to figure out their migration plans for the new contract. It also will help to have a period of overlap that is sufficiently long so there is not this race to get off the old contract, and there is plenty of time for agency planning so they can craft the next generation statement of work.”

In the meantime, agencies still are looking for new services under Networx. GSA said agencies issued 13 statements of work in 2014 under the two contracts.

“It’s not unheard of for agencies to go back and revisit a fair opportunity decision,” said Bill Lewis, Networx program manager in an email to Federal News Radio. “But, it’s more common to revisit decisions because a new technology or new requirement has emerged. In the past few months, we’ve seen requirements dealing with expansion of enterprise networks, new technologies like infrastructure as a service and voice over IP (VoIP).”

GSA said on its Networx website that agencies spent $1.53 billion on telecommunications services last year with the biggest area being network based IP virtual private networks (46 percent and $703.7 million).

Crawford Bruch said CenturyLink has seen demand for Ethernet services and unified communications under Networx, while managed security services also has been popular.

This post is part of Jason Miller’s Inside the Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jason’s Notebook.