For years, many within federal government have relied on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms to run the contracting side of their operations. Horizontal solutions built for the mass market, these platforms require contracting officers to either adapt their workflows to fit the solution or engage in costly implementation and configuration engagements. It isn’t ideal, but for a while it worked. In 2021, it will no longer work.
As applications, data and users spread out away from the data center and federal agencies are mandated to find efficiencies and become more agile, new contracting processes put in place to accommodate these new realities no longer fit traditional workflows. These platforms simply weren’t architected to be flexible or dynamic enough to meet the new demands of the federal market.
Acquisition Automation Technology to the Rescue
This new normal gives the federal market an opportunity to streamline contracting processes with unified automation. Using low-code platforms, agencies can quickly build, test and roll out applications that either replace or augment existing platforms to automate contracting workflows as they move through the organization. And they can do this with little or no coding experience.
These applications rely on advanced automation technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and business process management (BPM) tools to break down data silos, streamline and automate workflows, and enable collaboration — all across disparate enterprise systems.
Legacy COTS can be very challenging to actually work with and use. The key is bringing all these technologies together under one platform where everything works seamlessly together.
Embracing these acquisition automation technologies allows federal agencies to offload mundane tasks, eliminate redundancies and enhance the user experience for the federal contracting workforce.
- Offload mundane tasks
There’s no way around it. Managing contracting processes is full of manual, tedious tasks. Through each step of the process, legacy ERP tools require contracting officers to check a box here, confirm a signature there and nudge decision-makers to take action. It’s not particularly efficient. Automation between a low-code development platform and legacy agency and governmentwide systems can take those manual tasks off contracting officers’ plates and allow them to focus on more strategic responsibilities.
- Eliminate redundancy
AI and ML can be used to scourge through contracting workflows to identify and eliminate repetitive tasks and other inefficiencies in procurement processes. Sure, a human could probably spend a few weeks poring over decision trees and meeting with contractors to find ways to optimize workflows, but AI can do it instantly, continuously and at scale — ensuring your contracting processes are always fully optimized for that moment in time.
- Enhance the user experience
Contracting decisions are often limited by time and the experience of the acquisition professional. Automation, such as AI and ML, makes it possible to consume a tremendous amount of contracting data and assist with making better decisions by providing timely suggestions and recommendations along the way. A new acquisition professional on a tight timeline now has the ability to make informed decisions in minutes rather than weeks, months, or simply not been addressed previously. The end result is more efficient acquisitions with better outcomes.
Like the rest of the world, the federal market is changing. Contracting officers need to be more agile, more flexible and more efficient when managing federal contractors’ talent and time. In short, automation allows agencies to connect disparate tools and data and streamline complex, tedious contracting processes. This allows them to be nimble and agile and make informed contracting decisions in real time.
You may also be interested in “How You Bring More Agility to Acquisition” and “Digital Transformation In Government: The Tools to Deliver.”
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Jason Adolf is a public sector expert for Appian, an enterprise low-code development platform.