Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

DorobekINSIDER: Pre-panel prep: Building a bridge between IT and acquisition

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Communication is difficult — any of us who have been married have learned this lesson the hard way — and we do it over and over again. And in organizations, it can be intensely difficult.I get to moderate a panel next week that looks at the issue of communication between agency IT and acquisition organizations. And improving that relationship cover four of Federal CIO Vivek Kundra’s 25 point IT management reform plan (PDF):
Align the Acquisition Process with the Technology Cycle
13. Design and develop a cadre of specialized IT acquisition professionals
14. Identify IT acquisition best practices and adopt government-wide
15. Issue contracting guidance and templates to support modular development
16. Reduce barriers to entry for small innovative technology companies
On Tuesday, April 26, I get to moderate a fantastic panel of luminaries to talk about the issues and challenges of bringing IT and acquisition. (More information about the 1105 Government Information Group’s Federal IT Acquisition Summit here.)

The panel:

  • Linda Cureton, Chief Information Officer, NASA Headquarters
  • Simon Szykman, Chief Information Officer, Department of Commerce
  • David Wennergren, Assistant Deputy Chief Management Officer, Department of Defense
  • Roger Baker, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, Department of Veteran Affairs
Read our discussion points… and add your thoughts… after the break…

In our pre-conference call, here is the general list of topics that we discussed:* Bridging the gap between IT and acquisition:One part of OMB’s 25 point plan is to design and develop a cadre of specialized IT acquisition professionals precisely because IT tends to be unique and… specialized.

Effective IT acquisition requires a combination of thorough knowledge of the Federal acquisition system, including the tools available, a deep understanding of the dynamic commercial IT marketplace, and the unique challenges inherent to successfully delivering large IT programs in a modular time-boxed manner. Agency CIOs and SPEs advised that acquisition professionals who were specialized in IT were more effective . This specialization is also consistent with private sector best practice. To bring these increased capabilities online, we will be creating standardized training and development opportunities to develop a cadre of acquisition professionals with the specialized knowledge and experience required to expedite complex IT acquisitions across the Federal Government.Over the next six months, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) and the Federal CIO, with input from agencies, will design a specialized IT acquisition cadre . In doing so, they will need to answer the following questions:
* What is the process for acquisition professionals to become specialized in IT?
* How do professionals progress within the community (i .e ., transition from entry-level through
to senior contributor)?
* How do you ensure that community members can focus on participating in IT acquisition?
* What training, experience, and certification are needed?
* What will be the impact on the remaining acquisition workforce and non-IT acquisitions if some of the staff are dedicated to IT acquisition?A number of agencies have already developed IT acquisition specialists who can serve as a means to expedite IT programs. Useful lessons can be learned from drawing on the experience of the GWACs and the staff that support them at GSA, NASA, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the case of smaller agencies, where IT-only acquisition groups may be impractical, leveraging GWACs or using specialized cadres at larger agencies through Economy Act transactions may be the best solution (e .g ., the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Technology Acquisition Center and Treasury Department’s BPD Acquisition Resource Center).

In addition, both the GWACs and these other agencies can potentially provide cross-functional support through experienced IT program management and technical staff. Access to these resources will, of course, not be limited to smaller agencies, as they can often provide an efficient alternative to in-house IT acquisition even for larger agencies. Particularly within the current budgetary constraints, agencies may have only a limited capability to hire new staff as candidates for the IT cadre, so drawing on other agencies’ resources may be vital to success.

So we will talk about how agencies can effectively build the bridge between IT and acquisition.
* The importance of the CIO in the acquisition process

VA CIO Roger Baker has discussed the importance of having ‘the power of the purse’ as a way to effectively bring about change. What is the role of the CIO in the acquisition process? And what is the role of acquisition staff in dealing with IT?

* Have we learned anything?

On October 25, 1996 — yes, 15 years ago — then OMB Director Franklin Raines issued memorandum 97-02 (Funding Information Systems Investments), setting forth guidance under the Information Technology Management Reform Act. The memo came to be known as Raines Rules. Reading it is eerily similar to reading the OMB 25 point plan. So have we learned anything?

* Other topics…

We will also be talking about governance, performance management, the need to be solution oriented rather then focused on functionalities, and the trends, like cloud computing, that focus on managing IT infrastructure as service managers and what that means for the contracting workforce.

Anything we are missing? What experience have you had?

Written by cdorobek

April 21, 2011 at 5:39 PM

One Response

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  1. One comment from my Facebook page:

    As a former acquisition, contracting, and IT professional in DOD, I think the biggest challenge is in training. The DOD Program Management certification is NOT geared to IT acquisitions and the current thought – this is how you buy an airplane and for IT you just have to tailor the process – provides no real insight in how to manage IT systems. My studies at USC in information systems management provided the baseline of education I needed to be successful – the PM classes did not.


    April 22, 2011 at 1:40 PM

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