We all know that the number one problem facing federal IT leaders is how to remove the burden of legacy IT from their budgets and their infrastructure. Most discussions focus on the next generation of products, services, and solutions. Very few address the other part of the IT modernization equation: how to improve the acquisition management process. However, until acquisition management is included in the IT modernization conversation, the burden of legacy IT on federal agencies will not be fully resolved.
“Federal agencies struggle with making acquisitions happen in a timely manner because the FAR/DFARS-based acquisition process is very regimented and document heavy,” said Ben Allen, Director of Professional Services at Appian in a recent interview with FTI. “The issues with acquisition processes start with the struggle of how to define the need, which results in a lot of back and forth between the customer and contracting just at the requirements phase,” said Allen. “From there,” he continued, “there is so much additional review and documentation to pre-empt contract protests, that the process gets mired.”
However, while these challenges certainly detract from the timeliness of the acquisition process, Allen explained that the systems that contracting teams have to work with are old and disjointed. “Contract professionals spend more time clerking data between systems and people than adding value to the acquisition process,” he said. So even though Congress has tried to streamline the acquisition process through the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) this fundamental element of acquisition management reform hasn’t been addressed.
Despite the current state of affairs, Allen is optimistic that acquisition management struggles can be overcome. While government acquisition will never be as streamlined as the private sector, by virtue of the need for greater fairness, transparency, accountability, and responsibility, there are ways in which the acquisition process can be improved.
Allen shared four attributes to look for in an acquisition management platform.
1. Look for Platforms that can be Tailored
Better acquisition management doesn’t come from trying to shoehorn agency requirements into a COTS acquisition package. Look for tools that enable customization, not just work arounds. If you ignore this element, said Allen, your acquisition team will “simply have another system they have to fight with to get their job done.”
Agencies need an acquisition management platform that is configured to start from a robust foundation of government acquisition data standards and processes. This highly configurable baseline can then be tailored to meet the agencies exact needs. Even if the agency has data and processes that no other contracting organization tracks, the platform should be able to add and extend the existing architecture to meet the exact agency needs without costly customization.
2. Build Consensus
“An acquisition platform isn’t just for the contracting professionals. It’s also for customers, contracting officer representatives (CORs), small business office, legal, policy, finance, and agency executives” emphasized Allen.
A robust acquisition management platform allows an agency to bundle everything – all their processes, all their data, and all their users in a single system. This matters because when these various elements are disconnected, you lose transparency, reporting, automated exception handling and escalation. You can only manage and optimize the processes you can model, deploy, and observe.
3. Build for Change
“In acquisition, change often comes in two forms: the first is through changes to acquisition regulations and procedures and the second is through evaluation of organization performance,” noted Allen.
For the first instance – regulatory change – the governing regulations in Federal Civilian and DoD acquisition, FAR and DFARS, are updated multiple times a year. Often these changes require updates to the acquisition systems. A flexible acquisition platform allows agencies to quickly adapt to regulation changes in a way that makes sense to their organization. It also insures that changes can be incorporated in the application without first having to resort to short term workarounds to comply.
The other form of change is through agile retrospective of how the organization is performing. An acquisition platform allows you to quickly review process and performance, and design and implement solutions to address identified weaknesses. Just as software teams use agile practices for continuous improvement of software delivery, the acquisition organization can do the same to continue to drive efficiencies.
4. Invest for the Future
“An acquisition management platform will enable an agency to reap the benefits of updates to the underlying platform technology that ensure the application remains current and doesn’t become a relic like so much of the acquisition software in use today,” said Allen.
Being future-ready opens up the opportunity to take advantage of newer technologies, including mobile, without requiring additional development time or budget. One of the greatest opportunities awaiting federal agencies is the ability to integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help drive additional automation, fraud detection, suggest acquisition strategy, or flag high risk acquisitions for greater review without having to build complex AI integrations. When the next technology innovation comes along, you can count on the platform to make it available to you so your application remains leading edge.
Interested in learning more? What you need to know is here.