Tag Archives: government innovation

Navy Establishes 6th “Tech Bridge” Office For Partnering With Industry And Academia

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Image: Secretary of the Navy https://www.secnav.navy.mil/agility/Pages/techbridges.aspx

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

The Navy is setting up a new office dubbed the Palmetto Tech Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, to focus on developing innovative technologies.

The effort is part of a set of “tech bridges” the service is creating under the Naval Information Warfare Center to develop partnerships among industry, academia and the services.

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“The upcoming Palmetto Tech Bridge will be the sixth office. Other locations include: Newport, Rhode Island; Keyport, Washington; San Diego; Orlando, Florida; and Crane, Indiana.

Michael Merriken, director of the Palmetto Tech Bridge, said the office will be concentrating on autonomous systems, cybersecurity and communications. Specific problem sets will be determined by the Navy, he noted.

Cmdr. Sam “Chubs” Gray, director of Tech Bridges, said the centers are a platform that each of the regional offices can utilize to better connect to different resources. The service wants to tap into Charleston’s advantages, such as the city’s academic community and technology sector, Gray noted.

Charleston’s community will be particularly useful for exploring 5G technologies, Merriken said. The service hopes that will allow it to leverage industry input early in the technology development process.

“5G is a great example of a technology that’s really being led by industry,” he said. “This is where Tech Bridge really comes into play. We want to have that ability to connect with industry and collaborate with them.”

Because some of the Tech Bridge participants will be members of industry, many of the technologies may be dual-use systems that will be profitable for commercial companies as well, Merriken noted.

“We work with these solution sets to then build this product that eventually goes to the warfighter, and then the commercial folks can take that technology and then build it into some product that they can use,” he said.

Initially, researchers will be examining artificial intelligence solutions for network diagnostics, he said.

Merriken said developers are still examining specific locations for the Tech Bridge in Charleston. However, the Navy hopes to find a building that fosters teamwork with features such as meeting rooms and quiet rooms, he said.

“We’re looking for a space that we can have these people collaborate and work together,” he said.”

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/2/5/navy-establishing-tech-bridge-in-south-carolina

Future-Proofing Government By Fostering Connections

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FCW

More interagency collaboration, greater engagement with stakeholders and seamless interactions between agencies and the public are some of what’s needed for the federal government to excel in the years ahead.

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“That’s according to the Partnership for Public Service, which published a report on the future of IT, the federal workforce and data modernization efforts.

The report, written in collaboration with EY and published Feb. 5, is the product of months of interviews and workshopping with policy makers, industry experts and agency leaders. Some of the solutions addressed common complaints like siloed IT systems, inefficient competition between agencies and unsatisfactory customer experiences. It encouraged agencies to collaborate internally and with other agencies and to increase engagement with private-sector partners and the general public.

“When IT modernization first took place and we started with the Centers of Excellence, it was really about one agency taking a particular problem, solving that problem, and then sharing it,” Department of Agriculture Chief Information Security Officer Venice Goodwine said in a panel discussion on the report. “There’s no need to spend the money building something that’s already been built. To [build an interconnected government], we need to leverage investments that other agencies have already made.”

Goodwine said the ideal model would be having one Center of Excellence for each shared service that could act as the point of contact across the federal government.

Department of Veterans Affairs’ Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer Barbara Morton said that as customers have become accustomed to quick, frictionless service from private companies such as Amazon, federal agencies look slow and inefficient in comparison, leading to frustration. Reorienting services to address customers’ needs would be a key first step to changing the government’s reputation as unreliable and inert.

“In the next five or 10 years, the way we meet demand will be by listening and orienting around customers’ needs, rather than putting the bureaucracy first,” Morton said at the panel. “The expectations for us are being set outside of government. … It is our obligation to be able to catch up and meet those new needs.”

Nancy Potok, the former chief statistician for the Office of Management and Budget, concurred, adding that increasing engagement with external organizations would be one solution.

“Agencies should be encouraged to partner with outside companies and entities that are really good at this,” she said. “It’s true that the public has been now very well trained to expect instant service.”

Focusing on customer experience skills during hiring and in employees’ daily work would also help foster accountability and a service-oriented culture so workers can better meet the new demands being made of their agencies. 

“When people get supervisor training, they learn the rules. They learn compliance and how to fill out a performance evaluation. That’s not the skill set we need in today’s world,” Potok said. “We shouldn’t let anyone into a supervisory position until we’re sure that they have collaboration skills, that we’ve worked on their emotional intelligence, that they’re problem solvers, that they’re willing to take some risks.”

Agencies like the VA have taken the extra step of not only encouraging those skills in their workers, but actually writing them into official policy.

“In the department, we have core values and characteristics codified into our regulations such as integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence,” Morton explained. “We amended the regulations to include customer service principles as part of our core values. We updated our [Senior Executive Service] performance metrics as well, to include customer experience. To drive this culture change, to reorient, we need to consider customer service to also be part of our regulations and our core values.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/02/07/future-of-government-russell.aspx

A Call To Action: Developing The Next Generation Of Federal Leaders

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FEDERAL TIMES” By Bill Valdez

Photo: “IBM Center for the Business of Government “

Unlike corporate America and the military, which systematically groom their leaders from Day One, the federal government’s approach is generally uncoordinated across agencies and not well-informed by research or best practices.

Ensuring that new generations of federal leaders are prepared for the challenges we all know are on the horizon is vital to our national interests and the functioning of government.

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“Developing the next generation of leaders for the federal government should be one of the highest priorities that Congress and federal agencies have. A new report finds that federal government agencies must increase efforts to prepare those leaders for the realities of a 21st century, which include unexpected and disruptive changes brought about by new technologies, changes in climate and demographics, and an uprooting of alliances and previously agreed upon social norms and practices.

The report — “Preparing the Next Generation of Federal Leaders: Agency-Based Leadership Development Programs,” released by the IBM Center for The Business of Government and co-authored by myself, James Perry from Indiana University, and Jenny Knowles Morrison and Gordon Abner of the University of Texas — found that there are some exemplar leadership development programs throughout government at agencies such as the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Agriculture — but that such agency programs need to be expanded more widely.

Our report found that current programs “… are akin to having many different pilot programs convening simultaneously with neither a rigorous assessment of the effectiveness of those programs nor any coordinated effort to enhance next rounds of programming.”

This has consequences when public confidence in the federal government is at an all-time low.

“Just two-in-10 Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right ‘just about always’ (4 percent) or ‘most of the time’ (16 percent). Nearly seven-in-ten (68 percent) say they trust the government to do what’s right only some of the time and 11 percent volunteer the response that they never trust the government,” a 2017 Pew Foundation study found. This compares to the 1960s when 85 percent of Americans said they could trust the government to do the right thing.

Without career federal leaders in the executive branch being perceived as capable of navigating the complex and challenging environment the government operates within, the American taxpayer will continue to doubt whether government is delivering value to them. And for good reason — the U.S. government is the nation’s largest employer (2.6 million career civil servants) and those civil servants implement a $4.4 trillion annual budget that touches the lives of all Americans on a daily basis.

Effective leadership can help to increase public confidence that full value can be delivered to Americans for this enormous investment.

So we know the problem, but do we know the cure? The IBM Center report provides strong evidence that it is long past time to continue neglecting how we develop our leaders in the federal government and is a clarion call for action.

Like with the military and corporate America, the executive branch of the federal government needs a culture and practice of systematically developing leaders. Our study demonstrated that effective leadership development programs exist, and that if properly resourced and implemented will produce the talented career leaders our government requires.

The report contains many recommendations, including identifying the factors that enable successful leadership development programs to thrive in the federal government.

Our most important recommendation is to stop treating developing our next generation of leaders as an afterthought and accept that this is a national priority of the highest order.

Retirements among baby boomers are accelerating and government is having a tough time attracting new generations to government service (only 6 percent of the current workforce is under the age of 30).”

https://www.federaltimes.com/opinions/2019/11/27/a-call-to-action-developing-the-next-generation-of-federal-leaders/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bill Valdez is president of the Senior Executives Association, the professional association for career members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and equivalent positions.

Air Force Category Management: Spend Intelligently, Not Just By Year’s End

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FEDERAL NEWS NETWORK

Again, and again, the Air Force has found that the most important lever for spending efficiency is managing demand.

Redirecting demand to substitute products can end inefficient processes and produce human and monetary resource savings

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“When the Air Force identified fire protection suits as a target for better management, the priority was improving firefighter safety by standardizing equipment. Market analysis had revealed that assembling fire protection ensembles using boots, helmets, gloves and suits bought from different suppliers was a safety problem. It took more training to learn to properly use equipment from different manufacturers, and that opened the possibility for dangerous errors. Mismatched pieces also could expose firefighters’ skin to chemicals and burns.

Buying from a Defense Logistics Agency contract wound up costing more than necessary because the Air Force wasn’t aggregating its demand. Pricing was based on orders from individual bases rather than on the average of 5,000 ensembles bought every year for 10,500 firefighters Air Force-wide.

Benchmarking fire departments in New York and California showed that they buy standard suits for all their firefighters and develop longstanding relationships with the suppliers. So, Air Force firefighters narrowed down their requirements to an overall ensemble configuration. That led to a reduction from 109 to 14 contract line items and 14 contracts to nine—one for chem-bio boots, five for ensemble pieces, and three for suit care and support. The changes saved $1.1 million in fiscal 2018, alone.’

Now, an Air Force directive has made these contracts mandatory, so savings should increase, releasing more funds to buy protective suits and to move to other critical readiness requirements.

In the Air Force’s best-in-class business approach to category management, contracts aren’t the main event. In fact, while the strategy rarely leaves current practice unaltered, it doesn’t always end with changed or new contracts.

Instead, Air-Force-style category management delivers a range of demand-shaping, policy and process improvements aimed at achieving desired outcomes, saving on outlays and redirecting resources to increase readiness and lethality.

Even when category management is focused on improving solutions, it also saves money and improves processes.

The Air Force category management approach can wring efficiency from a mammoth contract like the General Service Administration’s IT Schedule 70.

Agencies come to IT 70 with their individual buys and often end up paying higher prices than they could be. When a company sees an order for 50 printers, it has no idea or expectation that tomorrow another order for 50 or 100 is coming, so it prices according to 50. The Air Force sought to harness the full power of having a bigger contract.

It created a computing blanket purchase agreement (BPA) on IT 70. Every six months, the Air Force puts its entire client computing demand up for bid on the BPA and provides the winner all the Air Force orders for the following six months. The Air Force gives bidders its historical spend data. Eyeing that demand, contractors sharpen their pencils and might even take a loss in the first three months, planning to make it up plus more in the next three because they are confident the orders will be there.

Redirecting demand to substitute products can end inefficient processes and produce human and monetary resource savings, as demonstrated in the case of taxiway lighting. Air Force airfield taxiways need to be lighted at night, and they require a lot of light bulbs. The Air Force was using incandescent bulbs in taxiway fixtures, and they often burned out. Every time one did, a civil engineering troop had to drive a truck out to change the bulb.

Those out-and-backs were creating big manpower and materiel costs. Bases were spending an enormous amount on lighting, not even accounting for the cost of electricity. Shifting demand to substitute LEDs for incandescent bulbs increased bulb life expectancy 100 times, reduced electricity costs by 60%, achieved off-the-charts civil engineering process cost reduction, and is on track to save $4.7 million over 10 years.

Improving outdated or inefficient policies, as in the case of an Air Force elevator maintenance directive, can produce impressive savings by itself. With every base handling its own elevator maintenance contracts, the Air Force Installations Contracting Center (AFICC) had expected that imposing one big contract would be the right way to generate savings. But it turned out that the Air Force hadn’t updated its elevator maintenance policy in 30 or 40 years, even though elevator technology had evolved significantly.

The policy required monthly and quarterly inspections. Because it was an Air Force directive, no base could deviate from it. It wasn’t that costs were so out of line, it was that the policy, and thus the requirement, was out of date. So, AFICC wrote a standardized requirement based on current private sector best practice—some elevators now self-report when they need repairs, for example—and collapsed maintenance costs by 27%.

Follow the Air Force Model

In 2018, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan directed the other military services to adopt the Air Force’s business-oriented category management approach.

Now, the Army is standing up five categories for an Army-wide program and category management is the number two priority for Army acquisition. AFICC is helping the Defense Health Agency and other federal organizations apply the Air Force approach. Air Force category managers also are cooperating with those leading the governmentwide program.

Government-wide category management performance measures such as increasing spend under management (SUM) and moving up the governmentwide program’s tiers of SUM can be important metrics for some purposes, but they don’t change incentives. They won’t help reinvest money from support to mission. They won’t add rigor to focus category management on the spending that will produce the greatest return on investment, and they won’t correct the mistaken belief that a bigger contract is always better.

By tracking the savings from reducing common spending and apportioning those dollars to successful category management practitioners, the Air Force is attempting to move the incentives from “spend all your money on time” to “spend as intelligently as possible.” With help from financial managers, those who take a business approach like the Air Force’s to category management will be able to free up cash flow to invest in mission capabilities.

The United States must move faster than our adversaries can keep up. This requires thinking critically and seeking mission-focused business opportunities. The Air Force example demonstrates that aligning incentives and protecting and encouraging disruptive thinkers and actors can spread exceptional outcomes governmentwide.”

GSA Takes Major E-Portal Step Toward Commercial Products Buying

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FEDSCOOP

The General Services Administration has reached the next phase of its journey to launch an e-commerce marketplace for use by federal agencies looking to buy commercial off-the-shelf products.

The agency issued a solicitation for e-marketplace portal providers seeking to develop a proof of concept for the Commercial Platforms program.

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“As federal procurement continues to evolve, simplifying how we purchase basic commodities will allow agencies to focus more on work that directly serves their missions,” GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a statement. “Federal agencies spent approximately $260 million using online portals last year, and it is critical that we use the Commercial Platforms program to better understand and manage this spend.”

The program is a requirement of Section 846 in fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. As such this initiative has been in the works for a while — a draft of this new solicitation was first posted in July. Through market research and feedback from stakeholders, in response to the draft solicitation and industry days held before, GSA has decided to “start small” in its approach to this whole e-commerce thing.

“By using a proof of concept for the Commercial Platforms program, GSA is able to start testing implementation of the program with a small group of interested agencies and utilize actual purchase and spend data to analyze results and then refine the program approach as lessons are learned,” Laura Stanton, deputy assistant commissioner at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, wrote in a blog post in July. “This allows us to test an innovative purchasing channel while also mitigating risk before developing the next phase of the program. ”

The solicitation will be open for 30 days, GSA says. Implementation of this proof of concept, which will be done in partnership with multiple e-commerce platform providers, is expected to occur in “early 2020.”

The e-commerce platform project is a key component of the Federal Marketplace Strategy, GSA’s initiative meant to modernize the federal acquisition experience for both buyers and sellers.

GSA has kicked off the fiscal new year with a bang, both with the launch of this e-commerce solicitation as well as the on-time consolidation of its Multiple Award Schedules program, which it announced it completed Tuesday.

Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Stresses 10 Agency Acquisition Innovations In Use Today

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Image: OFPP

“FEDERAL NEWS NETWORK”

Effort to break down the barriers to innovation that agencies, auditors and mostly time have built up over the past 20 years.

These are things lifted from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). There’s no new guidance. There’s no new policy. These are existing authorities that contracting officers can use out of the box.

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“Innovation is one of those terms in federal procurement that gets thrown around a whole lot. When is an agency or organization innovative? What stops agencies from trying something new or different when it comes to buying goods and services?

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is trying to answer those questions and debunk some myths about acquisition innovation in its 4th version of its Myth busters series.

Lesley Field, the deputy administrator for OFPP, said the new memo is part of an effort to break down the barriers to innovation that agencies, auditors and mostly time have built up over the past 20 years.

Lesley Field is the deputy administrator of OFPP.

“The reason we focused on the misconceptions and facts on innovative practices was to get at that complex base where we have a lot of folks who need to spend their time and talent figuring out how to solve our hard problems,” Field said in an interview with Federal News Network. “These are things lifted from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). There’s no new guidance. There’s no new policy. These are existing authorities that contracting officers can use out of the box.”

The idea that the memo highlights existing authorities and includes use cases has been a standard with the myth busters memos. In each of the previous three iterations, OFPP has tried to ensure it not only “busted the myth,” but provided examples or best practices.

This is now the fourth myth busters memo since 2011. The others addressed industry and agency communications, including debriefings discussions during market research for a request for proposals.

In this latest myth busters memo, OFPP asks CFO Act agencies to address a long standing challenge with these memos ensuring industry and contracting officers are aware and understand what the memo is telling them they can do.

OFPP directed each agency to publicly name an industry liaison “to serve as a conduit among acquisition stakeholders and promote strong agency vendor communication practices.”        Honor current and former members of the Armed Forces. Send them a free eCard during National Military Appreciation Month.

At the same time, Field said OFPP started an “in-reach” campaign because they have found there is an awareness gap with contracting officers. Over the last three memos, this awareness gap issue has been a major hurdle standing in the way of the program’s success.

Field said OFPP and the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council are planning webinars with federal procurement experts, an Acquisition Gateway University program and to figure out how to further educate contracting officers and contracting officer representatives (CORs) about the acquisition facts.

OFPP is depending on the CAOs, acquisition innovation advocates and other leaders to share and trumpet the myth busters memo.

Soraya Correa, the chief procurement officer at the Homeland Security Department, said she emailed the memo to her entire acquisition community.

“The other thing I do is I take the opportunity during my procurement community townhall, which I’m having another one next week, I’ll discuss the memo and why it’s important to keep these lines of communications open, and I encourage and support doing these things. Believe it or not, the word does get out because I’m talking directly to the 1,400 people or so that are out there across the DHS landscape.”

Correa said she also talks with other CXO leaders, including the general counsel’s office.

“I try to include the lawyers in all the activities that we engage in. Whether it’s our strategic industry conversations that I host every year or reverse industry days or our acquisition innovation roundtables and even [Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL)] boot camps, I’m happy to say our attorneys are participating in these activities. They hear what I have to say and they understand what we are trying to do,” she said. “What we have to do is include them in the conversation, by bringing them in to help them understand what we are trying to do. Instead of saying to them, ‘can I do this?’ Maybe the question is ‘how can I do this?’ Change the conversation a little bit with the lawyers, and you may get a different outcome.”

Field said OFPP also recognizes the need to bring procurement attorneys into the discussion. She said her office is sharing the myth busters memo through the procurement attorneys roundtable, an informal gathering of acquisition lawyers used as a sounding board, to ensure they understand what’s possible.

“The other thing we did with myth busters is attach a tear-sheet for the first three myth busters guidance so folks can take it and hand it to someone and say, ‘look OFPP is saying we can use these practices,’” she said.

DHS has used its PIL to demonstrate many of these concepts, including Myth #7: using product demonstrations before an agency buys—the show me, don’t tell me approach—and Myth #1: using innovative business strategies.

Correa said the memo’s message is clear: Agencies need to do a better job engaging with industry and it’s good to be transparent and open.

“We will create better and more effective processes when we do that,” Correa said in an interview with Federal News Network. “I can tell you my experiences has been the more we engage with industry here, the better solutions we are getting. We believe industry finds us to be a little more transparent than in the past.”

Field said one of the biggest myths she hopes the memo debunks is the one that says the FAR is complex and that’s why there are long lead times.

She said while there are complexities in the FAR, the agencies have a lot of authorities and flexibilities that they can use to get industry engagement early and often.

“The one thing I really like about this is we are going to make this a living document. This isn’t static. We are going to add examples, try to connect folks who are working on similar kinds of things and put resources up on the Acquisition Gateway so that contracting officer, program managers, lawyers and everyone involved in the process understands what they can do,” she said. “DHS and a lot of the other agencies have had great success with some of these practices. It’s reduced the burden on vendors. It’s helped us meet a lot of our goals.”

Public Sector Procurement Getting Smarter

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“FEDERAL NEWS NETWORK”

“The U.S. government in fiscal 2018 spent more than $1 trillion.  On average, anywhere from 30-to-40% of this goes toward purchasing something.

There is no question that various public procurement entities are evaluating the technology they use to streamline processes, get visibility into their data, collaborate with their suppliers, manage categories and contracts and much more.” 

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“………  there is a tremendous opportunity for improved spend management, more efficient processes and overall better visibility into supplier relationships in order to maximize return on every taxpayer dollar.

It’s difficult not to think about paper filled offices and uninterested employees. According to a Governing Institute survey, the tech-fueled procurement revolution has been slow to catch on in most governments. Only 35% of respondents, for example, said they have up-to-date spending information and market metrics in their databases even though nearly two-thirds cited such areas as critical to success.

That said, 2019 is most certainly going to see lots of change in the world of public procurement. In fact, it would be interesting to see the results from the Governing Institute survey which is coming up again in 2019. It is my opinion that public procurement across federal, state and local spheres is coming out of the shadows and shaking the stereotype, making 2019 pivotal.

Public sector procurement getting smarter

There is no question that various public procurement entities are evaluating the technology they use to streamline processes, get visibility into their data, collaborate with their suppliers, manage categories and contracts and much more. Procurement leaders in government are more aware and informed now than ever before and as such, they want the best as opposed to “what’s worked before.” Increasingly they are learning from the digital procurement transformation in the private sector and paying more attention to technology trends. There is more research on public sector procurement now with efforts such as Governing Institutes State Procurement Survey and Public Spend Forum. Government is getting smarter and looking for cloud-based platforms that can cover all their source-to-pay needs as well as be configured to meet the needs of individual agencies.  They understand that solutions need to be modern and user-friendly for all users including end-users, procurement and suppliers in order to have an impact.

A model that is talked about often in the private sector will become more commonplace in public sector. Customer centricity requires that procurement thinks of itself as a service provider, which means providing expertise and insight, understanding the goals, objectives and requirements of stakeholders, managing projects and change, etc.

On the flip side, this model is also about positioning the organization as “the customer of choice” for suppliers. The idea is to make it easier for suppliers of all sizes to work with the government but also in order to capture the latest innovation.

Rethinking quality and performance

Quality control and performance monitoring are going to become more important for public entities as they draw evermore scrutiny but also in the effort to deliver better services to citizens. Effective quality control requires a streamlined supply chain and better visibility into supplier performance.

Getting a handle on supplier performance and risk will require broad collaboration across agencies or across different entities of a state and must be part of the broader transformation strategy in order to truly be effective. The bottom line is that public sector procurement leaders must have in mind a strategy to monitor and improve supplier performance across multiple metrics.

Is there one place where suppliers register? Do you maintain supplier key performance indicators? Do you have the ability to survey suppliers or users? Can you keep track of contractual commitments? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed.

Data will make the difference

As with all things technology related, data is key. This is even truer as we enter the era of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and internet of things. Without having a handle on good, clean data, transformation and digitization efforts can be quickly stymied.

Having a strategy to improve the quality of supplier master data, for example, is a key one for procurement and will be important in order to reap more benefits from any procurement transformation. Good data is also the only way to develop strong strategic plans and initiatives that will help better manage spend and suppliers.

Fostering more digital talent

Following the previous point, getting a good handle on data is difficult without the right talent. As with all industries, public sector procurement organizations must equip themselves with the right talent around data, analytics and all things digital. I think we will see this happening more in 2019.

Overall, 2019 looks to be an exciting year for transformation and digitization of public sector procurement. Although, transformation is journey, for public sector it is one that has been long overdue for an overhaul.”

Defense Innovation Board Lays Out First Concepts

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“DEFENSE NEWS”

“Thinkers and business leaders from the tech world outside of the traditional defense sector.

The sole exception to that is the presence of retired Adm. William McRaven, the former head of SOCOM.

The board came out with a series of rough recommendations for Secretary of Defense Ash Carter — or his successor — that they believe will lead to injecting a culture of innovation into the Pentagon.

Schmidt opened the meeting by acknowledging the importance of the Pentagon’s mission: “We all believe an outside perspective would be beneficial and we’ve set out to try and make some recommendations.”

He added that members of the board have spent the summer traveling around to various DoD installations, including trips to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) headquarters in Tampa, Florida. Schmidt also spent two days last week traveling with Carter to learn about the nuclear enterprise, and future trips are scheduled for US Pacific Command and US Central Command.

So what are the early ideas from the board?

A Chief Innovation Officer

The first idea listed by the board was the concept of a chief innovation officer, appointed directly by the secretary of defense, to serve as a point person for innovation efforts around the department.

Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School who has served in various government positions, explained that the sharing of best practices around the DoD is currently “less than ideal,” and noted that the position could act as the umbrella from which funding for low-level projects could flow.

Sunstein also said he believes that office could be set up “in a hurry. This could be done in a relatively informal way in the very near future.” At the same time, he acknowledged that there are “significant” legal and logistical challenges about creating the office.

The position could particularly help create cover for individuals who are down in the ranks and have ideas but are unable to flow them forward on their own.

“There are innovators who are in the Defense Department and who are excellent, but who could be sharing best practices and better coordinated and could be spurred a bit more, and the idea there is a dispersed innovative capacity in the form of lower-level people who have great ideas but face obstacles,” Sunstein told journalists after the event. “The idea of that as an umbrella for various concepts, we’re drawn to that.”

Create a Digital ROTC

The recent hacks of the Office of Personnel Management and state election offices show how critical it is for the US to recruit and retain top cyber talent, said Marne Levine, chief operation officer at Instagram. Top commercial firms with deep pockets and great benefits compete fiercely for that talent, with DoD struggling to keep up.

So in order to attract talent to the Pentagon, the board suggested creating a “digital ROTC,” where the Pentagon would pay college tuition for cyber experts in exchange for their service.

Levine acknowledged setting aside the funding for such a program “may require hard budget choices,” but “one only has to think of the high cost of cyberattacks to understand the value of such an investment.”

Similarly, she put forth the idea of creating a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, career-path specialization inside the department, similar to that followed by doctors or lawyers.

The good news, said astrophysicist and television personality Neil deGrasse Tyson, is that the generation currently in high school and college is more interested in science than any before it.

“If you’re going to recruit people who have an interest in science and technology, I can assert that the pool of people now available to you is greater than ever before,” he said. But to attract those people from the commercial sector, the Pentagon needs to offer the best opportunities for new technologies and programs around.

“You can’t just say come because we’re cool. You have to be cool,” Tyson said. “And you’ll get ’em, for sure.”

Create a Center of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning have the “ability to spur innovation and represent transformational change,” said J. Michael McQuade, senior vice president for science and technology with United Technologies.

That is certainly an opinion shared by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, who has talked extensively about the importance of artificial intelligence for the next generation of Pentagon systems. But McQuade said the Pentagon needs to think broadly about that potential and how it can impact things down to supply-chain optimization and training, and not just combat functions.

“We do believe substantial changes are happening in the core science and technology capability” here, McQuade said, which means the Pentagon should look at creating a center of excellence to be the central hub of this work. Whether that is a national lab or institute isn’t clear yet, but the center would ensure “adequate” focus on the issue.

Embed Software Development Teams Within Key Commands

Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and now with Greylock Partners, joked that the tech industry has become so reliant on software that Silicon Valley should be renamed Software Valley. And the Pentagon, he said, simply has not kept up.

As a result, he put forth the idea of creating embedded software development teams in various key commands, which would be “small, agile teams of software developers where you would keep these teams current on modern techniques of software development.”

Improve Software Testing Regimens

Milo Medin, vice president of Access Services with Google Capital and a former NASA official, also emphasized the importance of software for the Pentagon, noting it is the driving factor behind upgrade programs for everything from radars to the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Currently, operational testing of software is set in the classic mindset, Medin said, adding that the testers seem to have “an implicit assumption” that the Pentagon’s firewalls, as currently constructed, are sufficient.

“In the heavily networked battle space these systems are operating in, the consequences of our weapon systems being breached from a security perspective could be severe,” he warned, adding that as autonomy enters the battle space the risk of systems being hacked could expand.

As a result, software testing needs to happen on an ongoing basis, not just when the planes are going operational. And for that to happen, the government needs access to the software code that runs the systems.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Medin stressed that does not mean defense contractors should be forced to hand over control of code developed in house, a major issue that has been raised from industry in recent years.

“The issue isn’t owning the software. The issue is access to the software,” he said. “If software is your differentiator, if software becomes a core competency … that’s something the government needs to be able to have access to, to be able to build and to be able to potentially modify. That’s what you find in the tech sector.”

Create Funding Streams for COCOMs

The Defense Innovation Board is made up of thinkers from academia and the private tech sector, in a purposeful attempt to inject outside thinking into the department. The sole exception to that is the presence of retired Adm. William McRaven, the former head of SOCOM.

Now the Chancellor at the University of Texas, McRaven provides an insider’s perspective on the acquisition system and internal processes that drive the Pentagon. He also understands how to operate around them to innovate quickly, due to his experience at SOCOM, which is famously able to develop and deploy technology at rapid rates.

But while SOCOM has that ability, other parts of the military do not — something McRaven said the board came to understand during various visits this summer.

“We were a little frustrated as you see these magnificent infantrymen and pilots who are equally as smart [as SOCOM], equally want to innovate, and yet the layers of bureaucracy to get the decision-makers to make those decisions are difficult.”

As a result, McRaven would like to see a way to give other combatant commanders acquisition ability. Not for big, Category 1 programs — “You need to let that go through a traditional approach,” he said — but for smaller technology programs. And if the commanders can quickly turn small projects into fielded capabilities, the idea that innovative thinking will be rewarded will “spread like wildfire” through the force, he added.

Future Concepts

Those concepts are still in their infancy, but represent the more concrete ideas the board has come up with. But there are several broader concepts that the members are still trying to get their head around.

Jennifer Pahika, the founder of the nonprofit Code for America, said she wants to tap into what tech companies call the “maker movement,” with an eye on the tinkerers in the military who have good ideas but not the venue for turning them into products. Eric Lander, president and director of the Broad Institute, said he was really interested in what role biological technologies could provide.

But the toughest issue to tackle, and perhaps the most important, is cultural. All involved agreed that developing a culture where new ideas can be tested and fail, without fear of ending a career, is going to be the biggest challenge. And it’s not clear exactly how that can be changed.

Schmidt said he is “convinced” the biggest change the board needs to look at is with people and culture, more than specific pieces of technology.

That was driven home by the public comment section of the meeting, which featured a number of junior and mid-level officers talking about the risk-adverse nature of the Pentagon. At the end of the day, however, the hope is that the ideas from the board can start to change that around the edges before injecting change more directly into the system.

“The fact [board members are] not steeped in the Department of Defense may be the best thing this group brings,” McRaven told reporters. “At the end of the day, we want to have an outside look because I think that’s where we can make real change.”

Added Schmidt: “We’re not going to write a report without impact. We view ourselves as more of a contact sport, working with whatever way is appropriate.”

Another question is about the future of the group once Carter leaves office, which is expected to occur early next year as a new administration comes to power. The board is currently scheduled to expire in April 2018, but could be renewed much the same way other advisory boards have been in the past.

“The other boards have been around for a while, and I’m assuming we will generate enough value that people want us around,” Schmidt said. “And if we don’t perform, we will be fired.”

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