How to leverage the government's focus on transformation

Vendors with truly transformational technologies may soon find more receptive ears in the public sector, as senior IT executives wrestle with topics from acquisition reform to creating an environment that will attract the workforce of tomorrow into today’s government.

Vendors with truly transformational technologies may soon find more receptive ears in the public sector, as senior IT executives wrestle with topics from acquisition reform to creating an environment that will attract the workforce of tomorrow into today’s government.

In late August, a number of public and private sector officials met in DC for a series of brief conversations on government IT and procurement, focusing on transformation. These conversations considered how to use innovation for everything from protecting critical assets to reforming acquisition methods. Three key conversations dealt with how to consolidate procurement schedules, collaboration for technology modernization, and making government more attractive to younger prospective employees.

GSA Schedules

Alan Thomas, the commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, discussed future plans around consolidating schedules to present government employees with easier acquisition around the procurement of holistic solutions. Some of the schedules, Thomas said, are set up to encourage companies to compete over schedules rather than task orders – which seems to be missing the point in function.

The agency is looking to consolidate schedules in upcoming years, Thomas said, so projects will be further streamlined and can rely on a single schedule for a contract. To illustrate how projects are handled now, Thomas said that if a government agency wanted to establish a call center, for example, it might have to use GSA Schedule 70 as well as a schedule 56 for building materials, and an additional one for professional audio and video.

With a consolidated schedule, agencies will have less of a program management burden, and reduce how many times officials must deal with multiple contracting officers in multiple regions.

Technology Modernization Fund

GSA is also making strides with the Technology Modernization Fund, which has a board of senior government leaders, including Maria Roat, chief information officer of the Small Business Administration, who gave her perspective on the need for collaboration among agencies.

TMF encourages organizations across the government to modernize processes and helps them build roadmaps to get to a desired result. TMF has already helped the Department of Housing and Urban Development move some of their critical and legacy systems, originally programmed in COBOL, into the cloud. At the same time, TMF has helped the Agriculture Department create, a unifying portal for farmers and other USDA customers to report farming plans and utilize USDA services.

In a previous session, Roat mentioned that one of the main goals behind TMF was to spread innovation solutions and processes across the government, to increase centralization and encourage collaboration. According to Roat, groups that modernize internally without help from organizations like TMF need to reach out to other agencies themselves to set the stage for more cross-agency collaboration.

For vendors, working your solutions into these early collaborative projects is a good opportunity to get product marketed to other organizations that are looking to reform their IT.

Workplace IT Transformation

Workplace transformation has been worrying government staff, who fear that government jobs may dissipate as automation and AI march forward. The topic was addressed in a meeting with Steve Harris, the senior vice president and general manager of Dell EMC Federal, Vicki Hildebrand, CIO of Transportation, and John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner of the Office of Field Operations for Customs and Border Protection. The three discussed the struggles and the successes of transforming IT in the workplace.

On the government side, neither Hildebrand nor Wagner believed that new technology implementation would lead to workforce reduction; rather, the technology could actually enhance existing jobs. For example, Hildebrand noted that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is using drones to inspect pipelines for hazards, rather than having to send employees to remote locations. Those drones, Hildebrand said, still require drone operators and data analyzers, but offer savings in both the time and cost required to have employees on site.

Likewise, Wagner stated, with new facial recognition software, biometric capabilities and the Global Entry program for air travel, officers are not being replaced. They now have more time to do their jobs and focus on inspection and critical decisions, rather than having to manually input data. 

The bigger challenge, in fact, is not reduction in staff, but getting millennials interested in entering government. Hildebrand feels that some dated functions and devices in her organization may be turning young people off of the idea of joining the government workforce. Wagner, who supported the notion that technology needs to be modernized, pointed out that while the CBP now has good biometric software and systems, their attendance software is legacy and still running off COBOL.

Vendors with solutions that modernize systems and make them less clunky have a good opportunity to sell technology to agencies like these and by explaining how these advancements can actually help create the workforce of tomorrow.