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GSA, Hughes, CenturyLink, and the Government Executive Media Group host seminar on the future of federal networks and America’s digital infrastructure
T o help government agencies plan for a smooth transition to the new telecommunications network services contract vehicle, Hughes, CenturyLink, and the General Services Administration (GSA) participated in panel discussions and presentations at a seminar in Washington D.C. moderated by the Government Executive Media Group. The seminar was an opportunity to showcase how agencies can modernize their networks and realize gains in network performance while also reducing costs.
More than 100 government, consulting and industry representatives attended the event, which featured Crystal Philcox, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Category Management, Federal Acquisition Service, GSA; Tony Bardo, Assistant Vice President, Government Solutions, Hughes; David Young, Regional Vice President, Strategic Government, CenturyLink; Nick Coval, Chief Architect, Enterprise Solutions, Hughes; Sean Costello, Federal Solutions Architect, CenturyLink; and Tim Hartman, Chief Executive Officer, Government Executive Media Group.
Think of the Possibilities
In her comments, Crystal Philcox urged agency decisionmakers to explore the myriad advantages of advanced networking solutions and noted a rising trend in adopting more managed services. GSA’s priority, she said, is to help agencies understand the range of possibilities. For example, converging voice and data solutions enable agencies with large call centers, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Social Security Administration (SSA), to pilot telework programs for call center reps to reduce costs. A smaller agency may leverage EIS to bolster its network security capabilities, while another may use the contract to automate customer service and payment processes.
According to Philcox, each agency should consider how it wants to interact with citizens and employees. One example discussed by the panel is the farmer who is out in the fields working on a tractor. Today, equipment offers seamless connectivity between machine, operator, and field. Yet that same farmer may need to return to the office to complete forms online and submit them to the government because the requesting federal agency is not equipped to integrate existing systems to collect the data automatically.
Thinking about outcomes and possibilities—rather than just procuring the same limiting systems they have from the past—will enable agencies to maximize efficiencies. Philcox recommended creating a Statement of Objectives (SOO), rather than the traditional (and often too-rigid) Statement of Work (SOW) in a Request for Proposal (RFP), to focus on outcomes, empowering the agency to modernize without being locked into maintaining their existing legacy technology. With an SOO, an agency can also call upon technology experts throughout the industry for guidance and recommendations on how best to achieve those goals, which is difficult to do with an SOW that outlines required solution components.
The SD-WAN Connection
When agencies consider the possibilities for their networks, they must think about applications and the optimal user experience—looking beyond routing end points, explained CenturyLink’s Sean Costello. That involves determining Quality of Service (QoS) levels to ensure that no matter where a user is, where their applications reside, or where their data may go, they enjoy a standardized experience. Of course, broadband speeds vary widely based on a variety of factors. Much depends on whether a location is urban, rural or ex-urban and what connectivity solutions are available. Creating an optimized user experience across the network becomes a complex challenge for agencies to tackle on their own.
Here lies the power of a managed Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) solution. With HughesON Managed SD-WAN, for example, once performance requirements are set, the network automatically routes traffic from multiple paths to achieve the predetermined QoS level and optimizes the user experience. For agencies with offices across the country, dynamic routing like this enables more bandwidth at all sites—regardless of the type of connectivity or transport (DSL, T1, satellite or cable).
Goodbye, Networx. Hello, EIS!
The Federal Government is urging agencies to move away from using the Networx contract vehicle which ends March 2020 and instead turn to the new EIS contract for federal network services and solutions. Hughes is a key partner of the CenturyLink team, one of nine awardees on the new GSA Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract.
Networks are the central nervous systems of the Federal Government and the foundation for providing services to millions of citizens every day. With the award of the EIS contracting vehicle in 2017, the exploding range of networking innovations in the commercial marketplace are now available to agencies—ushering in unprecedented opportunities to transform their legacy systems into secure, enterprise-grade networks, bringing digital world benefits to both the government and its constituents.
The EIS Roadmap to Transformation
Transformation cannot be prescribed, the panel of speakers stressed. It does not happen in a linear fashion. And it depends on how the agency chooses to seize the opportunities made possible by EIS. Regardless, the panelists agreed that transformation should begin by cultivating a thorough understanding of the existing network traffic behavior.
With more than 2,715 Internet broadband service providers across the U.S. and hundreds of distributed federal civilian and defense agencies needing connectivity, network complexity can be a major hurdle, noted Nick Coval of Hughes. A transport-neutral managed services provider is uniquely equipped to provide the best-of-breed and most cost-effective connectivity solutions no matter the location or bandwidth requirements. Understanding network traffic requirements is crucial to developing an EIS roadmap and should be done before defining the SOO.
Make Transition a Priority
The final advice offered by the panel was for government agencies to act sooner rather than later in evaluating and procuring their network infrastructures. By leveraging solutions like HughesON Managed SD-WAN using the EIS vehicle, agencies will be poised to evolve over the course of the contract as new applications and technologies are added to the digital ecosystem—and, ultimately, transform the way they conduct business and deliver services to citizens.