AFCEA Women in Nova (WIN) Agility and Innovation Luncheon Recap

Published: February 14, 2019

USAFARMYBusiness DevelopmentContracting TrendsDEFENSEInformation TechnologyWOSB

The AFCEA WIN Chapter held a luncheon February 12, 2019 concerning the existing and future plans for innovation and agility, as it pertained to the DoD. As noted in the program’s agenda, “Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily.  Innovation is defined as a new method, idea or product.  While these two adjectives are not routinely associated with the federal government, more recent strides are being made in DoD to employ both of these characteristics.”

Speakers on the panel included Lieutenant Colonel Anne Wiersgalla: Director, Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG)/Strategic Communications HQDA CIO/G6, and Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Haberlach of the United States Air Force. Please note, Lt. Col. Haberlach replaced panelist Master Sergeant Theresa Terry, Contracting Officer for Air Force District of Washington, who was initially scheduled to speak. The luncheon was moderated by Patty St. George, Senior Partner, KPMG.

Defining Innovation

Delving directly into the top priorities and thoughts for industry, the panel began with an overall discussion of the term “innovation” and its definition within the context of government capabilities. Lt. Col. Wiersgalla discussed the increasingly apparent “era of strategic competition” for the United States’ position as a global power. She emphasized the need to both modernize and develop new technologies simultaneously for industry to help government achieve its overall aims. Furthermore, she charged industry to conceptualize and define innovation by actively thinking about what products and services previously changed what she referred to as the “character of war.” She provided examples such as the fortification of buildings, gunpowder, the building of tanks, and robotics as tangible evidence of previous innovations that truly impacted the character of war and the abilities of US warfighters. It is with that spirit she sees innovation progressing across new technologies moving forward.

In addition to her initial comments, Lt. Col. Wiersgalla also noted the increasing need for disruptive technologies. She discussed the importance of industry in looking not just at information technology needs prevalent across government agencies, but to also provide possible solutions in human resource or other non-IT capacities.

Lt. Col. Haberlach defined “innovation” by detailing the original intent of the military as a “function of power” in the world. She discussed “innovation as transformation,” noting that all new ideas and concepts come from conversations between government and industry. It is up to the military to change the process, and up to industry to bring that process to government.

Industry Best Practices

Following the discussion of innovation, the panel shifted to enumerating best practices for industry when it comes to approaching the acquisition process with new ideas. Lt. Col. Wiersgalla described her office’s conceptual framework to “Start small; fail fast.” The government is seeking to both obtain and implement ideas and processes quickly at a smaller scale in effort to see if a larger, longer-term solution is also possible. This allows for more ideas to flow through without the possibility of larger investment losses overtime. Industry was advised to always provide a proof of concept when submitting a proposal, as the government depends highly on the initial discussions in order to move forward in the often longer-term acquisition process.

It was also noted that often, it may be perceived by industry that the government is seeking to fulfill specified requirements, when in fact, it is more beneficial for industry to help the government define the problem they are seeking to solve in the first place. That is to say, industry should look to move from a requirements-based process to an outcomes-based process instead. Both panel members emphasized the increasing need for industry to aid in the craft and development of contracts, especially those containing brand new innovative technology such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

A final note from both panelists included the critical importance of all new technologies and ideas emanating from industry to be both interoperable across agencies, as well as building off of any existing agency structures already in place if possible. As technology matures and new products and services are utilized, the government is seeking solutions that can be implemented across multiple agencies, as opposed to being housed solely in one unit.

Industry Q&A

Multiple attendees asked about the schism between encouraging innovation, while balancing the inherent security risk associated with new technology implemented in the ever-vulnerable government space. Both panelists made it clear there is always a balance of respecting the proprietary information from industry being used in government-owned property, but risk is necessary for eventual progress, and any risks known should be brought to the forefront of discussion so everything is on the table from the beginning. Both Lt. Cols. concluded there certainly is no easy answer, and as we progress further as a society with greater capabilities, it will be increasingly important to safeguard innovation as best as possible while simultaneously enhancing all possible avenues for the warfighter.