Exposing the Supply Chain is a Matter of National Security

The phrase "Supply Chain" may make you immediately think of retail giants like Amazon and Walmart or manufacturers like GM and John Deere, but government is highly reliant on security supply chains. A supply chain is the network of all the people, organizations, resources, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product. It encompasses the delivery of source materials from the supplier to the manufacturer, to its eventual delivery to the end user. In government, supply chains have come front and center with the Trump administration's rulings banning government use of products from certain Chinese manufacturers citing security concerns that products could contain ways for the Chinese to spy on the U.S. Companies selling technology to the government have to be able to trace the source of all elements of their products to ensure nothing originated with the banned distributors.

Being able to do this requires a mature supply chain process and solution. Interagency committees have been established to determine best practices in securing increasingly complex supply chains. Understanding supply chains is an expensive undertaking and one survey found that small and mid-sized businesses are opting out, counting on the fact that they will not be the ones called out to defend their supply chain to government. This mentality may not be an option for long.

DoD is getting more and more prescriptive in their security and supply chain guidance, adding the review of contractor purchasing systems as part of bid reviews. GSA has also explored banning the use of refurbished IT, since that includes products where a supply chain cannot be re-created.

Continue reading

Easy as RPA

Robotic Process Automation (RPA). It may sound like a premise to a movie where robots take over the world, but it's very real and it's helping organizations realize modernization goals. Despite the name, RPA has nothing to do with robots. It is about software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automate high-volume, repetitive tasks. This can include queries, calculations, and maintenance of records and transactions.

In government, RPA is already being implemented in a wide variety of applications.

  • Inspections - As agencies look to modernize the way they perform inspections of the water we drink, the roads we travel, and the buildings we travel to, they are using RPA to move off paper-dependent processes.
  • Claims review -- RPA is built into an intake tool used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that ingests records, automating the process and identifying potential problems.
  • Procurement - RPA is being used to automate and streamline the close-out process of government contracts, freeing up staff to work on actual programs, rather than spending time documenting that work.
  • IT asset management - Managing IT assets is a combination of automated and manual tasks. The introduction of RPA greatly reduces the need for manual intervention when it comes to enforcing governance and process, freeing up staff to work on mission-focused projects rather than tracking the technology used on those projects.

Continue reading

Acquisition and Procurement: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

With another Government Fiscal Year ramping up, we're starting with a whole new year of budget and contract opportunities in the government market. As we've written here before, the acquisition and procurement process in government is evolving to adapt to the technologies and services being procured as well as changes in the workforce that supports it.

The federal government has been rolling out a number of changes to modernize the procurement process. The Government Services Administration (GSA) is taking steps to streamline their scheduled offerings from two dozen into one. The goal of this consolidation is to remove overlap between schedules and eliminate confusion around what schedule should be used. This shift is happening in three phases:

  • Phase 1 -- Issued a consolidated schedule solicitation with a simplified format, streamlined terms and conditions, and new categories and special item numbers (SINs) This phase is complete.
  • Phase 2 -- Mass modifications of existing contracts. Finishing in 2019.
  • Phase 3 - Final consolidation. Slated for July 2020.

In other efforts to be more efficient, procurement teams across government have been looking at implementing emerging technologies to automate manual processes, plus speed up and secure the overall acquisition lifecycle. For example, the use of blockchain is helping buyers "comparison shop" for pricing as well as closing out contracts.

Finally, acquisition groups are playing a big role in ensuring new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) are consumable by the federal government. GSA is partnering with the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to advance the efforts of the AI Center of Excellence, employing tactics that have worked in other agencies including the Department of Agriculture.

We've pulled together a number of events that are applicable to the procurement community as well as industry and government looking for ways to introduce new technologies and services into the government.

Continue reading

Growing Our Cloud Smarts

The move to cloud computing in government has changed from a focus on Cloud First to Cloud Smart. The initial push to cloud encouraged agencies to look at cloud options when adding or updating technology but provided no direct guidance. This "Cloud First" push provided a way to educate agencies on what cloud is and why it is a viable option for deploying applications to the government workforce. This education worked, making even the most security-conscious agencies comfortable with moving data and applications to the cloud to gain new efficiencies in time and budget.

The Cloud Smart policy, a logical evolution of Cloud First, was introduced last year and provides more guidance surrounding security, procurement, and workforce skills to foster cloud adoption and implementation. While the value cloud can provide is widely accepted, procurement of cloud remains a stumbling block to wider, easier cloud adoption. The shift in spending from capital funds to operating funds and the fluidity of the fees based on need and usage require different language and structure in contracts. Security also continues to be a focus, creating new "shared responsibility" language in cloud agreements and plans.

To help you get smarter on how to be cloud smart, we've compiled a list of upcoming events that cover the areas related to a successful cloud deployment.

Continue reading

Agile Acquisition

Don't let the title mislead you, today we're not talking about acquiring Agile services (though, that plays a role) but rather about how government is making their procurement process more flexible and dynamic to meet the needs of federal teams and citizens alike. We've written here about the challenges in government acquisition--from the retiring workforce, to concerns of end-of-year spending, to incompatibility with modern technology. Given these challenges, we've seen a shift in recent years from the "that's the way it's always been" mentality to one of innovation.

There is some guidance on making changes to procurement including the introduction of Other Transaction Authority (OTA), a way to more quickly carry out certain prototype, research, and production projects. OTAs incorporate business practices that reflect commercial industry standards and best practices into its award instruments. But, what is having a greater effect is agencies taking risks and trying new procurement methods on a one-off basis to see what works.

Lesley Field, the deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said in an interview, "I see a lot of appetite out there for taking risks, calculated risks and bringing our industry partners along." She went on to talk about how agencies should be willing to try new ways of acquiring goods and services and be willing to learn quickly from mistakes and change course. Also communicating those lessons learned across government is crucial to government-wide procurement reform. Continue reading