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Project of the Week – DoDTechipedia and DefenseSolutions.gov

The birth and evolution of DoDTechipedia and DefenseSolutions.gov is a fascinating and multi-faceted story. It begins in the DoD CIO’s office, travels to the Hill and through the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L). In support of our national security, each of these entities were trying solve different, yet very related challenges – ability to access and field capabilities quickly from any source (emerging technologies), a need to plan and prepare for a vast range of potential contingencies given funding constraints, the ability to keep pace with the innovation cycle including addressing market research needs, collaboration and knowledge management needs, expansion of supplier base to include increased opportunities for small business, increased transparency, and even addressing workforce demographics and adoption of Web2.0 tools. And the good news is, these entities began working together to address their challenges resulting in joint, streamlined solutions. DoD’s Noel Dickover (DoD’s CIO office and govloop member) and Christopher Thomas (CTO, Defense Technical Information Center) walked me through the history.

So what is DoDTechipedia? “An initiative of the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC®), a DoD scientific and technical wiki, DoDTechipedia is designed to increase communication and collaboration among DoD scientists, engineers, program managers and operational warfighters. This tool enables DoD personnel to collaborate on technological solutions, reduce costs, add capability and avoid duplication. DoDTechipedia aids in the rapid development of technology and the discovery of innovative solutions to meet critical capability needs and gaps.”

DoDTechipedia also attempts to improve collaboration with industry:
– Collaboration on state of the art emerging technologies
– Guidance on how non-traditional defense suppliers can do business with DoD
– Innovative uses of other transactions to quickly award funding to high-value solutions
– Dramatic improvements in performing market research

DoDTechipedia’s “Family of Services” includes the (1) internal wiki (open to DoD employees, non DoD feds and industry with CAC cards) which went live in October 2008, (2) an external facing wiki which is expected to launch summer of 2009, (3) a planned classified instance and, (4) DefenseSolutions.gov which launched in February 2009. DefenseSolutions.gov is based on the United Kingdom’s very successful Science, Innovation and Technology Portal. From the website, “DefenseSolutions.gov is a portal through which innovative companies, entrepreneurs, and research organizations can offer potential solutions to the Department of Defense. This portal, and the team behind it, are designed to encourage companies that have never considered doing business with DoD to participate.” Quite simply, DoD uses DefenseSolutions.gov to describe a general problem and asks industry to submit solutions.

Our story begins in the DoD Office of the Chief Information Officer. If you are like many of us in the world of federal acquisition, you are always interested in expanding your industry base and finding new companies with innovative ideas and solutions. It can be a somewhat overwhelming and slow process to seek out these companies or respond to requests for meetings, think through all the information you’ve collected and develop an acquisition strategy. Then there is the acquisition process itself encumbered by numerous regulations, policies, laws, etc. that makes actually acquiring new solutions lengthy, costly and difficult to build in the flexibility to take advantage of ever changing technology and approaches. If you are the Dept. of Defense with annual procurement spend of approximately $350B ($30B is IT and $10B is Science & Technology), and a shortage of acquisition professionals, it is really hard to get needed and effective technology into the hands of the warfighter in a timely manner. The Office of the CIO was trying to improve the market research process to expand their supplier base, reach cutting edge technology, reduce costs and reduce the time to acquire and implement. For IT communications, the market research process is vital to ensure you are buying the right products.

During this same time period, Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) was interested in addressing barriers small businesses face trying to do business with the government. Staff from the DoD CIO’s office met with staff from the Armed Services Subcomittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities to discuss potential solutions that would enable DoD to reach a broader supplier base to include small business, address Congressman Smith’s concerns and improve transparency. Congressman Smith helped pass the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act and in particular sponsored Section 881 – which “Requires the [DoD] Secretary to: (1) establish a clearinghouse to identify, assess, and disseminate knowledge about readily available information technologies that could support the DOD warfighting mission; (2) hire and support employees to assist in such activities; and (3) report to the defense and appropriations committees on implementation of this section.”

In trying to address their market research needs, the mandates of Section 881 of the NDAA, and operating on very little budget, the DoD CIO’s office began exploring a wiki-based solution. After looking at approx. 70 wiki tools, they settled on Confluence for the roles-based access and information assurance compliance features.

After seeing Intellipedia, Mr. John Young, Under Secretary of Defense for AT&L, and a big believer in the value of sharing information, was interested in ways to improve collaboration among scientists, researchers, investigators, as well as to speed up the time from requirements definition to solution implementation. He thought a solution similar to Intellipedia might be the answer. Dave Wennergren, the DoD Deputy CIO approached AT&L to develop a joint solution that would address both the “situational awareness” challenge as well as the “how to fund” challenge.

So the original thought of a market research wiki-based solution has evolved and is now: a broader based collaboration tool; a means to create widespread situational awareness and visibility into investment areas across the Department; a way to expand the supplier base and access to cutting edge technology; a way to reduce costs and duplication of efforrt; as well as a way to address needs and expectations of the next generation workforce who use and expect Web 2.0 tools.

What does success look like? Widespread usage, cultural acceptance and use of these tools as general business practice. Section 881 of the 2008 NDAA also calls out specific metrics related to rack & stack capabilities.

Today, DoD Techipedia has 5500 registered users, 600+ technology page areas, 140,000 page views, 30 blogs and the following stated goals:
– Foster Cross-DoD Internal collaboration on:
– Capability issues and problems
– Research and Engineering Programs information sharing
– Technology implementation issues

Since going live in February, DoD has received 27 tractable ideas through DefenseSolutions.gov for the three needs expressed in the single area of Battlefield Forensics. More than half the ideas are from submitters that self-identify as “never done business with DoD before.” There are several ideas in initial evaluation, and a few more that are candidates for further proposals. The site averages 200 hits per day, most from the commercial domain.

DoD is in the beginning stages of exploring a federal government-wide implementation of the DoDTechipedia family of services as they see huge potential for significant opportunities to collaborate in other areas such as energy and potentially federate with other tools and federal wikis such as Intellipedia and Diplopedia.

A special thanks to the very enthusiastic duo of Noel and Christopher for taking the time to discuss these initiatives for govloop’s Project of the Week.

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Very cool – I like the story of how it came about. A few fortunate events timed up to a push for a great project. Looking forward to seeing how it develops.

Jan K McCorkle

What a great way to engage the innovation community in such a user friendly format a growing population of users is familiar with. Great idea!

Noel Dickover

Hi Patrick, the metrics are based on whether and how long it takes for a theme area posted on DefenseSolutions.gov to end up with capability in the hands of the warfighter. Success in this sense means we could prove that we have a much more rapid method of getting innovative ideas from industry into the hands of the warfighter.

Regarding theme areas on DefenseSolutions.gov, if you see on there, this means there is a capability owner with problems and a budget in the background. They are willing to fund submitted ideas that address the problems outlined in the theme area. I don’t have the exact numbers of submissions to date, but I know that two of the submissions provided in the first two weeks that Battlefield Forensics was online are now going through the beginning stages of being funded via other transactions authorities.

In terms of a future acquisition, if you mean a future RFP release – there is no future acquisition. There is, however, the current one, which is using an approach outside the FAR process. The acquisition takes place when an innovative idea is submitted that the capability owner thinks will address their problem. The idea is we are trying to engage industry to come up with innovative solutions, that we can then quickly fund. We are trying to get money in the hands of technology entrepreneurs like yourself lots faster without us thinking through the broad outlines of the solution and then specifying them in an RFP. By filling out the form, you are in effect submitting an innovative idea for potential funding.

Just to stress, this approach is still in its pilot stage. If successful, we expect to see many more theme areas provided.

Noel Dickover

And Patrick, just to be clear, all ideas submitted through DefenseSolutions.gov will have their IP protected for 5 years, which makes it safe to submit ideas even if they don’t get funded. The other thought is it takes an incredibly small amount of time to submit an idea via DefenseSolutions.gov than it does, say, to respond to an RFP.