MileMarker10 CEO Susan Sharer sat down with Ibility co-founders, Danielle Krakora and Ken Beecher, to discuss the challenges facing Government around digital transformation, activating emerging tech in a meaningful way, opportunities in acquisition and advice for achieving lasting change in Government.
Digital Transformation Challenges for Government
Government is struggling to execute on its lofty digital transformation goals for several reasons:
- The digital transformation vision is often set by senior information technology leaders and is rarely translated into a manner in which the frontline adopters can understand or appreciate;
- Requirements are not derived from the actual end users, but from those in the middle or at the top of the organization, leading to a disjointed or incomplete solution;
- End users often face competing priorities throughout the development lifecycle, reducing their available time to provide critical feedback on the product design. This often contributes to dissatisfaction and disengagement post-implementation;
- Quantifiable metrics are not often established early on, making it difficult to measure success and justify long term enterprise investment. Furthermore, true business value is rarely maximized, which leads to other areas of the organization implementing similar solutions. This causes fragmentation, disparate data sources and spaghetti type architecture. It behooves large Government agencies to have unified solutions that aggregate data to allow senior leaders visibility to critical trends and insights.
Activating Emerging Tech in a Meaningful Way
The business world is saturated with stories about how new and exciting emerging tech such as Blockchain, Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, etc. are providing real business value to organizations across a variety of sectors. As such, Government leaders are taking notice and curiosity is at a high, but lack of understanding and knowing where to start is holding back progress.
Some savvy Government leaders have gone as far as putting an RFI on the street to better understand the emerging tech industry and the key players, but action has rarely been taken. Why is this the case? It is difficult to imagine business processes utilizing emerging tech through words in a response or reading a compelling use case from a business journal. Leaders, and more importantly their frontline employees, need to experience the solution within the construct of their process. They need to touch and feel a clickable wireframe or prototype solution to visualize the real value, which will give them more confidence that they will be successful. Moreover, once a compelling solution is identified and then communicated, internal champions or change agents must be leading the implementation from within. Without internal enthusiasm throughout the process, adoption will taper, and true value will never be realized.
Another important lever to pull for Government leaders looking to quickly discover, test, and scale emerging technology is the Other Transactional Authority or OTA. This acquisition authority allows certain Government agencies to leverage private sector R&D investments to facilitate enhancements. It is quicker, easier, and more affordable than traditional FAR-based contracting and shifts the focus on technical results, while minimizing the miles of red tape. Utilizing this authority, more agencies could also greatly improve the use of emerging technology to modernize some of the massive legacy systems prevalent in VA and other agencies.
Challenges in Government Acquisition
Typically, a business owner will identify the need to modernize or improve an existing system using technology. They gather high level requirements and perform basic market research. However, more often than not, the business owner is not an expert in technology and is not informed about the plethora of solutions available to them that could potentially meet their needs. After the initial decision is made to invest in improving the process with technology, the business owner submits an RFI followed by an RFP – both being incredibly time consuming to write and review! After months of waiting and reviewing the contract is finally awarded.
The contractor kicks off the project with several more weeks of requirements gathering and documenting end user processes. After all of this time, energy, and money is spent, the end users are fatigued, and enthusiasm is waning even before the real development begins. The development process takes even more of their time and attention and leads to further disengagement. By the time the product is ready to be launched into production, the contractor has the challenge of reengaging the end users to implement the solution, which is very difficult because of fatigue caused by the aforementioned process.
A Disruptive Way to Innovate
Instead of the typical acquisition process, what if the Government used challenge competitions to define requirements, perform market research and even the playing field amongst technology companies providing similar solutions? Imagine sharing that modernization need with leading technology companies during a challenge competition. Each company would field a team of experts to work with Government end users to develop a solution in the form of a dynamic wire frame. In a matter of days, the business owner would have several different solutions to consider beyond just words in an acquisition response. This allows the Government to make a more informed decision, spend less time and money, and engage the end users at the beginning of the process in a fun and exciting way. Not to mention clear and well documented solution requirements. Everyone wins!
Challenge competitions not only create solutions for specific needs but can be used to bring awareness to similar issues impacting other agencies and the potential solutions to improve them. Think of the opportunity: all the great solutions not immediately chosen during a challenge competition could be available in a central database for Government agencies to consider when looking into modernizing a process. No idea would be wasted – they could be repurposed, refocused, and used for the greater good throughout the Government!
About Danielle Krakora
Danielle is a tenured Federal employee with 10 years in the Army and another nearly 10 years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the beginning of May 2021, she co-founded Ibility, a management consulting company based out of Gaithersburg, MD. She is a demonstrated leader in innovation and digital transformation, with a strong focus on building and sustaining an exemplary customer/user experience. In her free time, she uses her time and talents to support a variety of local and national non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the lives of Veterans and those with disabilities.
About Ken Beecher
Ken has been supporting Public Sector agencies and Commercial companies with their modernization and digital transformation needs for almost 25 years. His passion is implementing cutting edge technology solutions and leading professional services engagements while looking through his client’s eyes and wearing their shoes. Ken’s goal is to be surrounded by extraordinary people and develop meaningful relationships.
Ibility is a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business (EDWOSB)/Women Owned Small Business (WOSB). Ibility specializes in creative programming, like challenge competitions, to ignite innovation and then help to strategically implement the products/programs/digital solutions that bring the most business value. This process has been proven to dramatically reduce the time and cost to develop and scale solutions across large complex organizations.