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Agencies Look to Reap Benefits from Overlapping Tech Initiatives

Federal agencies are taking a variety of approaches to address increasing requirements for cost efficiency and technology advancement. As adoption of new capabilities matures, technologies are being combined to deliver greater value.

Lower IT budgets and technology mandates are two drivers that have spurred agencies to explore ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Initiatives to reduce duplicative investments are one way in which government organizations are seeking to consolidate costs and streamline investment. Another shift has come in the form of cloud computing, which is allowing agencies to shift IT spending from capital expenditure to operational expenditure. Adoption of cloud solutions has been heralded as a means to deliver greater capabilities and promised cost savings. The need for greater flexibility around data is leading agencies give greater consideration to open source software. Strategic sourcing, shared services, automation, analytics – there are numerous other examples of agency efforts to increase capabilities without breaking their budgets.

As agencies clarify their future vision, approaches and technologies are being combined to yield greater impact. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moved all its public-facing websites to Drupal in 2012. The shift allowed DHS to more easily share and manage code through a single, common platform. A large number of government sites have current and planned uses for migrating to open source solutions, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), JBOSS, Drupal, and PostgreSQL. There's also been public discussion of how the White House's move to open source has impacted its technology achievements.

Earlier this year, the Department of Interior issued a notice seeking support for migrating to an Open Source, Cloud-based Content Management System. At the end of June, a contract for the effort was awarded. Considering the progress around implementation of these solutions, the move isn't that surprising. It is, however, noteworthy because it's a first for government. According to Tim Fullerton, director of digital strategy at DOI, Interior hopes to set an example for other agencies. The combined benefits of the consolidated, cloud-based, enterprise-wide content management system leveraging open source software spare DOI software licensing fees and offer nearly 100% uptime for their websites.

This is a model that other agencies are likely to follow. Increasingly, agencies are looking for enterprise solutions that can scale and adapt to numerous, varied requirements. At the same time, instead of buying a proprietary solution, agencies are considering open source solutions more frequently (where they make sense). Interior hopes other agencies can benefit from the move. As Fullerton puts it, "Since we've gone through the contracting process, agencies can go to DOI if they need help and adjust the documentation to meet their needs."

To be sure, vendors will have to contend with some of the lingering barriers to cloud implementation and the hurdles (and misconceptions) around open source solutions. The model, however, is bound to have appeal for organizations aiming to focus resources on website content rather than function and maintenance.


Originally published in the GovWin FIA Analysts Perspectives Blog. Follow me on Twitter @FIAGovWin .

Government 2.0: Government Trends - IT procurement transformation (Part 2)

Continuing from my previous blog on Government  2.0’s effect on the traditional IT procurement process, I wanted to take a look at trends in government’s approach to acquiring Gov 2.0 technology. Part 1 of this blog series highlighted how small Gov 2.0 IT firms have begun to use non-traditional purchasing options to circumvent the traditional procurement process. Gov 2.0 firms are trying to avoid the procurement process because it has historically been more difficult for small IT firms to compete in the government IT market. However, today’s trends in IT procurement hint that times are changing. Since governments continue to face shrinking IT budgets against expanding IT costs and needs, they are now looking for alternative ways to do business as well. For many IT bureaucrats and contracting officers interested in Gov 2.0 technology, that means looking outside of the conventional procurement process, and toward smaller IT firms.


Code for America (CFA), an example of Gov 2.0 realized, is an organization that describes itself as “Peace Corps for geeks.” Established in 2009, CFA assigns programmers on year-long fellowships to work with local governments on in-house IT projects, to provide faster and more affordable alternatives to procuring vendor services and solutions. CFA noticed that new IT products, which it calls “civic startups,” were often created once the fellows had completed their assignments – essentially spawning new businesses. However, these civic startups that had created products for governments were having trouble selling their products. Finding the government procurement process difficult to navigate, many fizzled.


In response to this issue, CFA is setting up its first civic incubator, where a handful of IT entrepreneurs will participate in a five to six-month-long program that will provide funding and mentoring, while bringing their applications and solutions directly to local governments and school districts. This incubator is something CFA’s leadership hopes will turn the traditional procurement process on its head.


Another noticeable trend on the rise is localities across the country sponsoring crowdsourcing events and hackathon competitions as an alternative approach to the traditional solicitation processes for Web development solutions and services. In 2010, after working with CFA, the city of Boston took a one-day hackathon event to the next level by creating a permanent office within local government. The New Urban Mechanics Office was created to hire full-time programmers for in-house IT development projects as well as to conduct outreach to encourage, field, and partner with small IT entrepreneurs.


In another CFA spinoff, White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park created the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program to  pair “top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate on solutions” using technology. On August 23, 18 innovators from outside of government were selected to work on one of five projects over the course of six months. The PIF program’s goal is to synthesize open data, expand e-government services, and simplify the RFP process by “building a platform that makes it easier for small high-growth businesses to navigate the federal government, and enable agencies to quickly source low-cost, high-impact information technology solutions.” 


One of the five projects, RFP-EZ, was born after Sean Green, head of the Small Business Administration’s Investment and Innovation Program, remembered an instance with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The department had a need for an IT project, but the project’s estimated cost was $5 million to implement by a traditional IT vendor. After some research and outreach, HHS partnered with smaller IT companies that were able to complete the project for just more than $400,000.


During the PIF announcement, Green gave an open call to developers, contracting officers, and small Web development firms to join the effort and participate through, which is an open platform where RFP-EZ will be demoed. If successful, many state and local level governments will likely partner with or imitate the RFP-EZ project. Park took to Twitter after the announcement to confirm that the PIF will also be working with both state and local governments, in addition to the federal government, to create these IT solutions.


Analyst's Take


At all levels of government, innovation and affordability have been contradictory terms. The Code for America debunked the idea that quality Gov 2.0 solutions and services had to come at a premium. CFA seems to have been the catalyst for the future direction of Gov 2.0. Governments willing to take the early leap by circumventing their IT procurement process and engaging with innovators directly can expect some growing pains, but they will likely be dulled by ultimate cost savings.


The traditional format of government procurement has been grounded in the 1950’s-style door-to-door salesman. Governments release a solicitation and wait for the salesman to ring their door bell to peddle goods. Now, government agencies with strict budgets have the option to shop around without going through a lengthy and expensive procurement process. Governments want convenience and efficiency without having to sacrifice quality and they are willing to go outside the traditional procurement process to get it. 

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