In the federal government’s pursuit of tech modernization, it’s easy to focus on the technology. But modernization is about changing and upgrading processes, as well, something that agencies interested in applying for money from the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) should consider.
Alan B. Thomas Jr., commissioner for the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, is a board member of the TMF. At a recent ATARC federal technology modernization event, he shared some insights into how the fund is working so far, and some tips for improving the odds of an application being approved.
“We’ve had many more requests than we have dollars” to award, Thomas said. He estimated the fund has received applications totaling between $400 million and $500 million.
The applications have tended to fall into a few categories. For instance, the fund has received several proposals from agencies with very old legacy systems, often written in COBOL, that they want to modernize. Other agencies have “lots of task-based applications stitched together with legacy code,” he said.
Another promising category is applications for shared services. “We’ve seen a little bit, but would like more of, agencies working together,” he said. “For instance, the visa process – many different agencies touch that … Think about modernizing it from end to end; agencies thrash it out, then approach the board. [We are] hoping this pot of money and the visibility the board can provide … will help.”
His advice for a successful application: Have a mature acquisition strategy. Agencies that have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish but haven’t thought out how they would spend the money achieving their objectives are less likely to have their applications approved.
Another tip: Don’t bury the lede. “We’ll get an initial three- or four-page proposal, but the last page has” the value proposition, Thomas said. He suggested the short summary should be, “Here’s what the problem is, here’s what we want to do, here’s what we’ll get.” Be concise, but don’t swamp the application with “acronym-speak.”
The fund evaluates how the agencies will repay the money. Thomas said it considers the alternative payback mechanisms, such as cost savings through greater efficiencies or through contract consolidation.
“This is great advice for agencies,” shared Chris Borneman, CTO at Software AG Government Solutions.
“It’s no secret that agencies need to modernize their systems in order to deliver citizen services efficiently and that the pressure is on for them to transition from planning and discussion to delivery and execution,” he continued. “Being able to leverage funding to build a strong foundation that enables integration of systems, services, devices, processes, and data, is a sure-fire way to maximize IT investments, create a payback mechanism for the TMF, and improve mission success,” Borneman concluded.