Although the General Services Administration “stumbled out of the gate” in helping agencies with the transition between the old Networx and new Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions telecom contracts, GSA has since been working hard to engage other agencies moving forward, according to Kay T. Ely, deputy commissioner of the office of information technology category at GSA.

“I think we really stumbled out of the gate a little bit. I think we did not support the agencies as well as we could’ve Day One. I think we were just so thrilled to have the award, we’d gotten through some protests and we were like, ‘OK, it’s here,’” said Ely, who spoke at a July 17 FedInsider event.

“And we’ve done a lot of work since then. We’ve done a lot of conversations, we’ve done a lot of work with the agencies.”

Ely explained that GSA now has officers designated to work with specific agencies on the transition from Networx to EIS, which is required to take place by 2020. The agency also hosted a “meet your EIS vendor” day in May 2018 to help agencies learn more about their options under the new contract.

“A part of this is transition, but what we’re really trying to focus on — and we’ve made tremendous progress, as I mentioned, since last July — is the actual transformation and modernization,” said Ely. “We’ve built in a lot of opportunity for modernization and transformation even, because we know the business we’re talking about today is going to look very differently 15 years from now, 10 years from now.”

Dave Young, senior vice president for strategic government at CenturyLink, said that agencies should be thinking of the transition as something more than a journey to modernization and instead see it as a lifestyle change.

He explained that prior contracts had the good luck of syncing up with advances in technology, so that as a new technology came on the market, the contract for the old technology expired. But the pace of technological innovation is speeding up and, rather than create shorter contracts, GSA extended the EIS contract to 15 years with added flexibility for modernization.

“Really what we have to do is get in a new culture, a new rhythm around how we embrace technology, how we use technology, and it’s not through contract change anymore. That’s how we viewed modernization in the past, through contract change. So we’ve got to break that mold and move more toward understanding technology and how technology is adapting,” said Young.

“What we built into EIS was that changes that technology and modernization would demand can be made at the task-order level and not the contract level,” agreed Ely.

Of course, last time the government went through a telecom contract transition, extensions on the deadline for those transitions “left a lot of money on the table,” according to Ely.

“What we have said, and we’re sticking to it, is that if we adjust your transition and an agency, for whatever reason, can’t even do partial transformation, the transition, no modernization and extension are off the table,” said Ely. "We’re very aware that that is an issue and we are looking at how we can have that conversation with our interested stakeholders.”