It has been more than two years since the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract was activated, which means the final EIS deadlines are fast approaching. By March 31, 90% of an agency’s telecom inventory must be moved to EIS, and by Sept. 30 that increases to 100%. Those agencies that have not yet chosen an EIS provider risk incurring penalties, but there is even more at stake: our long-term growth and ability to compete.
For a little background: In 2017, the $50 billion EIS contract set out to help government agencies modernize their telecommunications systems and networks, by simplifying the process of acquiring telecommunications and IT products and services, enabling the procurement of integrated solutions and offering a flexible and agile suite of services, among other key objectives. By doing so, the General Services Administration aimed to generate cost savings, provide access to qualified industry suppliers and importantly, incorporate emerging technologies into agency network infrastructure, such as internet of things, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and 5G. However, with only months away from the deadline, many government agencies have not yet taken steps to complete their transitions.
As agencies look to meet the deadline, they may believe it easiest to simply update and replace “like-for-like” systems, and while this is expedient and understandable in the short-term, it is actually self-defeating in the long-term. Through the EIS contract, the government is providing the opportunity for agencies to digitally transform from outdated legacy systems and select new solutions that truly meet their growing needs. While updates with similar technologies are easier to manage than major upgrades and can be completed quicker to meet the deadlines in 2022, this approach will result in greater overall costs and energy spent over time.
In the past two years, the environment has significantly changed, with transformation now required just to function properly in today’s world, not to mention future-proof an agency. In this environment, digital transformation is a must-have and not a choice without risking the loss of critical factors like function, productivity, personnel, security, resilience, safety and more.
Several recent factors have contributed to these changes and are making transformation more desirable. First, the industries that were lagging behind in technology adoption were forced to accelerate implementation during the pandemic. The new paradigm meant that workforces became — and will likely remain for the foreseeable future — distributed, remote and hybrid, supported by new digital tools. At the same time, threats targeting these new avenues are continuing to emerge, and securing the core network is no longer sufficient. New security frameworks like secure access service edge (SASE), which protects the individual worker instead of the network, is most effective when layered on top of architectures like software define-wide area network (SD-WAN). Further, there is this perpetual state of additional threats, from foreign state actors (see the current Russian cyber and war threat), climate change/disasters and terrorism, that the new distributed enterprise must be insulated against. Old legacy systems are extremely vulnerable to these threats unless they are transformed by digital technologies.
While meeting the immediate objectives to meet short-term EIS deadlines, government agencies should also keep long-term transformation projects top of mind. While the upfront investment in resources can take time, adopting new solutions can deliver permanent cost savings of up to 50% vs. the rising costs of legacy systems such as copper plain old telephone service (POTS) lines which can run up to $100 per line, as well as delivering superior performance, resilience and overall effectiveness.
As we have seen through the gradual retirement of POTS lines and 3G networks, if organizations don’t transform, support for key systems can expire and severely impact service performance, availability and maintenance. Major telecommunication carriers are in the process of eliminating their support for copper wired landlines, which means they are increasingly expensive to maintain and will not be fixed. The ancient 3G network — which still runs on those wires — is also being shutdown to make room for 5G. Together, these changes can potentially disrupt an organization unless they are digitally transformed. And in the biggest picture, the lack of true transformation will result in the U.S. falling behind strategic rivals like China who are making those investments of time and resources and rapidly transforming. Collectively, this is a potential outcome we simply cannot afford as a nation, let alone each government organization.
The good news is that many of these transformation technologies are being used today. For example, SD-WAN has helped large retailers like Signet Jewelers, the world’s largest diamond jewelry provider, to pivot quickly and nimbly to e-commerce solutions and thrive throughout the pandemic, setting them up for future success.
Transformation doesn’t have to be as complicated and time-consuming as it sounds. There are solutions that can make a difference in the near-term without shifting major resources. Digitizing landlines so that fire alarms, elevators and other emergency lines that run on copper lines are fully operational in all conditions, which lowers costs, builds resiliency and ensures employee safety and compliance, is a great way to start. New cloud-based platforms are also making it easier than ever to consolidate and control telecommunications spend, freeing up IT staff for higher-level work. It should not take a significant security breach or attack in order to move forward — the benefits are clear and here for the taking. And these changes can be done this year. So let’s transform our government and put our nation on a leadership path, together. The future depends on our actions today.
Rob Dapkiewicz is the general manager and senior vice president for federal for MetTel.