Why Agencies Need Acquisition-as-a-Service

An acquisition-as-a-service approach could solve software procurement inefficiencies for government agencies.

5 Online Tools Uncle Sam Wants You To Use
5 Online Tools Uncle Sam Wants You To Use
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By September 2015, no new purchasing contracts are to go through the federal government's Standard Procurement System (SPS). The entire legacy procurement system is slated for sunset by 2017. With the sunset of SPS, there's an opportunity to do procurement better in the federal government. Let's call this notion "acquisition-as-a-service."

Some agencies already seem headed in that direction. But before we turn our attention to them, here's a hard truth: Federal procurement processes have been poorly served by technology. Acquisition is a costly and complicated business, with little uniformity among the applications that automate acquisition's repetitive functions. Legacy systems that handle procurement processes often are not capable of fully supporting the work.

[The federal cloud-first mandate gains momentum. Read Government Cloud Use Hits Inflection Point.]

To show just how far Federal procurement technology is falling short, in August 2012, Appian conducted a survey of federal acquisition professionals. Here are the results:

  • 60% asked COTS acquisition vendors for changes but decided against them because the cost of those changes were too high.
  • More than one-third (35%) adopted manual workflow to cope with limitations in their acquisition applications.
  • 30% use specific workarounds to acquisition software limitations, like downloading and e-mail.

These are far from ideal ways to deal with acquisition software problems. Recently, some federal agencies are overcoming these technology obstacles to improve contract management. They are creating entirely new and comprehensive acquisition applications on modern work platforms that can be updated through the cloud. That's the underpinning of the acquisition-as-a-service concept.

By "modern work platform," we mean a development medium for creating customized software applications to automate repetitive sets of procedures. These agencies are enabling procurement processes to be conducted in the cloud. Acquisition-as-a-Service is a means by which procurement professionals can finally be freed from the technical restrictions of legacy applications that are incapable of being updated without considerable cost.

Let's look at two examples of forward-thinking agencies that are doing things today that could position them well in the acquisition-as-a-service model tomorrow: The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the Government Service Administration Public Building Service (GSA PBS).

DISA's new federal procurement program is called IDEAS (Integrated Defense Enterprise Acquisition System). Introduced as a possible replacement for the SPS, IDEAS shows what the future of AAS could be. IDEAS is a natively mobile, cloud-based shared services solution designed to meet the contract writing and acquisition needs of the entire Department of Defense. The system is capable of delivering acquisition management capabilities

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that support each DOD branch's unique procurement needs, without requiring costly manual workarounds. IDEAS will also operate at a fraction of the traditional operating and maintenance costs associated with similar systems.

With IDEAS, DISA is accomplishing three of its key strategic objectives at once: It is promoting agency- and DOD-wide acquisition agility; it is complying with its DISA-First mandate to serve as the DOD's early adopter for new enterprise capabilities; and it is promoting rapid delivery, scaling, and utilization of secure mobile capability across the DOD.

GSA PBS is also modernizing procurement in the cloud with its GSA Real Estate Exchange (G-REX) solution. G-REX was created using agile development methods to unite continuous process improvement, mobility, social collaboration, and data integration to optimize and accelerate leasing and lease management performance. It streamlines, simplifies, and monitors the government leasing process for both GSA leasing specialists and employees of other agencies who have been delegated to administrate the leasing process. This transformative approach to leasing and lease management was developed and deployed in less than 18 months, on time and on budget.

Both of these agencies have chosen to move their procurement practices to the cloud for better performance and to free themselves of the frustrations many of their colleagues still experience.

What's the moral of the story for other agency IT and procurement professionals looking to benefit from this acquisition-as-a-service approach?

CIOs should look at federal process improvement as automating a series of tasks all at once, rather than working with a string of legacy apps, each of which typically serves only one purpose. The costs of integrating these applications and updating the resulting stove-piped system are often too high to be put into practice, requiring cumbersome workarounds. Instead, CIOs should look to modern work platforms to develop a range of acquisition applications that can be rolled out and updated via the cloud -- with familiar social media user interfaces that can be used on-premises or on nearly any mobile devices.

It's a whole new way of conducting business. Automation within this acquisition-as-a-service approach allows applications to be much more streamlined, which improves time-to-business value and employee efficiencies.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

Chris O'Connell is vice president for federal sales at Appian. View Full Bio
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