IT Takes a Seat

By Chris Pryer, Business Writer

IT Takes a Seat

Provance Technologies’ Seat Management Solution Gives Outsourcers Advantage

Managing the infrastructure of information technology is critical to federal government agencies. The maintenance and operation of tens of thousands of desktop computers, the software that drives them and the networks that connect them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can be likened to the proverbial millstone tied around the neck of government agencies. Outsourcing the management of these computer “seats” often can combat this drain on resources, saving both time and money.

The leader in providing IT seat management solutions that allows outsourcers in the government outsourcing space to provide appropriate services to their customers and bill them appropriately for these services is Provance Technologies, Inc., headquartered in Quebec, Canada.

High Volume

Provance’s claim to fame lies in its ability to equip its customers with the tools necessary to handle large projects involving numerous and complex seat types that are subject to a high rate of change. It was because of this ability that OAO Corp., a U.S.-based leading provider of IT consulting and outsourcing, signed a three-year contract renewal with them. Provance will continue to provide its seat management software, assetOutlook, in OAO’s over $75 million per year desktop outsourcing contract with NASA. OAO had originally signed on Provance back in 1998 to help make the NASA relationship-it calls for the maintenance of 77,000 seats-cost-effective and profitable.

“One of the things that really attracted us [to assetOutlook] was Provance’s willingness to adapt the product to the outsourcing type of contract,” says Jack Garman, OAO’s V.P. of Enterprise I.T. Outsourcing. “In many ways, when you buy an off-the-shelf product, you have to adapt your processes to fit the product.” Garman sees OAO’s role with NASA as an integrator. They procure hardware from a manufacturer, get the tools from vendors like Provance and then supply labor and expertise to clients like NASA.

Asset management is a huge part of the relationship. “We own every piece of equipment and have to track them,” says Garman. “Once you track every piece of equipment-how many times it has been repaired, what’s good or bad about it-you really can cut costs and increase your efficiencies.” With government agencies moving more and more to fixed-cost contracts, cutting costs becomes an even greater incentive to outsourcers like OAO.

Another of Provance’s government outsourcer clients is the Government Services Group of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), which was awarded NASA’s Code R Outsourcing Desktop Initiative (ODIN) contract back in July 2000. The $10 billion, 10-year seat management contract encompasses 33,000 desktop, networking, and telecommunications seats across four NASA research centers-two located in California, and one each in Ohio and Virginia. Jack Yambor, V.P. of Infrastructure Services for ACS, says the scope and complexity of the NASA contract outstripped his company’s ability to manage the project with their in-house technology. “We had a stand-alone tool that didn’t integrate very well with other information systems that we used. Provance offered a solution that easily integrated with different vendor products.” This integration precluded ACS having to do a lot of expensive development and integration work.

A typical seat consists of a grouping of physical hardware and software elements combined with a number of associated services, including PC and software; LAN connection; Internet access; remote network access (dial-up); file storage, back-up and restore services; help desk support; hardware and software maintenance and refresh; installation, move, add and changes (IMAC); and system administration. Provance Technologies provides seat management outsourcers with the software and support services necessary for them to track and manage activity at each “seat”, thus helping them comply with contractual obligations and reconcile their billing while empowering the client to specify the services and technology delivered.

Unique Subscription Plan

While performance is key to any outsourcing agreement, the driver behind initiating the relationship and consummating it is price. Provance provides its services to its outsourcer clients on a subscription basis, which in turn gives them leverage in negotiating with potential clients. “I think we really developed this model during our first outsourcing agreement with OAO Corp. on (another) NASA deal,” recalls Gilles Lalonde, Provance’s president and CEO. “We started understanding the pressure they were under and just by negotiating with them to buy our product, we could tell there was an opportunity to offer our system on a subscription fee. The client was more likely to go that route because it became an operational expense it could easily justify rather than a capital purchase.” The subscription plan obviates the expense of upfront licensing fees and other capital costs outsourcers incur before having the opportunity to bill their customers.

Adapting to Change

ACS’s contract with NASA’s Code R sites is a worthy test for Provance’s assetOutlook. There are 46 different seat types, with an average of 12 associated services and five different service levels. ACS must manage over 2,700 seat configurations. Six hundred change requests are made each month. Provance’s Web-enabled software allows NASA’s 30,000 users and managers to view activity, along with ACS staffers, over the entire seat-managed system via the Web interface. Everything is accurately tracked and any request for action can be routed to the appropriate ACS staff person. For example, a service level change request to increase hardware maintenance response time is routed to the manager responsible for that seat type; a request for hardware refresh schedule change goes to an ACS inventory manager; technical needs are sent to the appropriate technician.

A Real Partnership

Provance not only provides a powerful software solution for its clients, it also has a firm commitment to customer service throughout the life of the contract. The initial agreement contains details of the subscription pricing and the volume discount available, which is based on total outsourcer volume and not just on a specific project. The discount encourages the outsourcer to deploy the assetOutlook solution as much as possible.

But Provance goes even further. “We participate with the outsourcer to help them in the proposal stage with the client,” Lalonde explains. We supply them with a boilerplate definition of seat management that describes the solution the outsourcer will use in order to satisfy the requirements of the client-to have access to his data, to be invoiced properly, and so on. And we explain, through these boilerplates, the flexibility that the client will enjoy by using our tools: having the capacity to change their service level as their business requirements dictate.”

If you are a large public or private sector establishment with a hefty IT department, look into seat management outsourcing. It’s where you ought to be.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • For many government entities, IT asset management is typically too time consuming and expensive to keep in-house.
  • Seat management allows outsourcers to provide the needed services to their customers and bill them appropriately.
  • Outsourcers and their clients benefit greatly from seat management software that allows all parties access to the IT management process.

About the Author: Ben Trowbridge is an accomplished Outsourcing Consultant with extensive experience in outsourcing and managed services. As a former EY Partner and CEO of Alsbridge, he built successful practices in Transformational Outsourcing, Managed services provider, strategic sourcing, BPO, Cybersecurity Managed Services, and IT Outsourcing. Throughout his career, Ben has advised a broad range of clients on outsourcing and global business services strategy and transactions. As the current CEO of the Outsourcing Center, he provides invaluable insights and guidance to buyers and managed services executives. Contact him at [email protected].

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