A group who shares ideas and experiences employing innovative acquisition practices, collaborative methods and use of Web2.0 technologies to transform federal acquisition.
June 23, 2011 at 8:07 pm #133832
I know there are a growing number of us across government who are using collaboration tools to engage with industry (or even within government) as we formulate our procurements – connecting and sharing ideas before going through the official acquisition process… Does that describe you? We need your help!!
Have you or someone in your agency or company used collaborative technology (i.e., social media tools) such as a wiki, discussion board, challenge or blog to share or get information during the pre-solicitation process? We are looking for some ‘success stories’ to demonstrate the value of pre-acquisition collaboration, and to show folks new to the idea how this could benefit their agency, their program or an upcoming acquisition. We also hope to find some examples that demonstrate how others could set up collaboration environments themselves.
Would love to hear:What avenues or tools are you using to hold these conversations?
What do you find has worked best in reaching out to invite industry to participate in the conversations? How do you keep them engaged?
What types of “conversations” have you engaged in with industry to conduct market research or to obtain industry input on your agency needs prior to issuing a solicitation? What benefits have your realized? What challenges have you experienced?
For those of you in industry – what benefits and challenges are you experiencing?
What else can you share that will help us as a government improve the dialogue with industry or others in government to improve our requirements and ultimately improve mission success and program outcomes?
Other ideas to consider?
Please let us know by sharing your experiences here! Your feedback will help us educate, coach, and encourage government to continue to collaborate in order to achieve the greatest value possible from each and every acquisition. Thanks for your help. The tribe is marching forward!
June 24, 2011 at 12:53 am #133862
Mary – as someone in industry who is eager to see a shift toward making the acquisition process more simple and transparent, I can tell you some of the challenges that I’ve encountered:
- The people who often control the official relationships (our various account leads, etc.) with agencies are in no hurry to change the way they do things. While I may want to collaborate around a procurement using a blog or Twitter or a wiki, I’d get my hand slapped if I did that without first “socializing” it with half a dozen people here.
- There’s a huge concern about doing or saying anything out there that may help the competition. It’s kind of like how an NHL head coach may know his star player has a broken leg, but they only say that he has a lower body injury. They don’t want to disclose any more than they HAVE to.
- If and when we are able to collaborate using these tools, the information exchange from the worker bee to the guy who may be “officially” allowed to collaborate there and back just isn’t there yet either. There seems to be a divide between the people who truly view these conversations as collaboration and those who view it as another tool for positioning.
Overall, I think we’re making progress, but I’d love to see more government-sponsored required training/information sessions around pre-solicitation collaboration focused not on the Gov 2.0 crowd, but on the old-school contractors.
June 24, 2011 at 3:35 am #133860
Down under, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), the home of the Australian Government CIO, has been utilizing social media to engage with industry for some time. Our blog, http://www.agimo.govspace.gov.au, shows several examples of our use of this channel to explore policy, strategy, standards and procurement issues with industry and other stakeholders. We’ve had a lot of success with this approach.
Conscious of the issues which Steve raises, we usually offer a non-public email response option as well as the more public means of commenting on posts. When it’s required, we anonymise the response and post a generic answer. Other government agencies are also using these ideas, sometimes on our platform, http://www.govspace.gov.au.
Some lessons learnt:
– engage early: considering responses and providing feedback takes time and people who have gone to the trouble of contributing expect a response and often a dialogue. If you are not prepared to discuss matters openly, don’t expect the stakeholders to.
– be generic initially: Steve’s concerns regarding companies protecting their intellectual property are very real. Discuss approaches, not products.
– provide some structure to guide responses: “What do you think about this?” generally is too broad. Consider breaking up documents into topics so more specific questions can be answered.
– provide updates: if you have used a blog to ask questions, also use it to announce what happened, providing links as required to other documents. People will come back to the well if the water is changed regularly.
– provide copies of presentations for those who couldn’t attend: Presentations often provide more detail than the stark papers they describe. power points, speaking notes, transcripts, even recordings (although we haven’t done that yet) all provide good information.
– beware of zealots and trolls: Have a plan to deal with the operating system fanboi tribes – create a separate thread for that conversation and let them go at it! Move the troll comments to a similar thread – don’t feed them.
– don’t only use one channel: Workshops, meetings, submissions, etc all have their place too.
This has been a successful process for us and we’ll keep doing it.
John Sheridan, First Assistant Secretary Agency Services, AGIMO (@sherro58)
June 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm #133858
Mary – As you know, I am leading a collaboration environment on a .gov domain channel, http://interact.gsa.gov . Interestingly, when a government peer and I presented to an industry acquisition council we found a great deal of apprehension and in certain cases official sanctions to their use of collaboration technology.
Some of the major take aways were;
- by participating in collaboration open forums, the industry partner might be inadvertently disclosing certain business information that may be used by their competitors in seeking business opportunities.
- Industry also communicated ion that meeting that many legal departments and communications departments had restricted employees’ use of collaboration technology.
I agree with Steve that we are making progress. However, I would love to get a temperature check of industry in the challenges that they may be facing in using this technology. I have spent so much time addressing the federal government challenges that I would love to now understand the cultural climate that may be experienced by our vendor partners.
Are the two concerns indicated above similar to the primary challenges/obstacles faced in your company? Or are there other challenges or barriers to entry that you might add?
June 24, 2011 at 12:27 pm #133856
One idea I have is that we need to see a clear example of benefit for industry for collaborating (and maybe punishment meant for not).
A lot of value is theoretical until you can say “X company was very active in Y collaboration. Positioned them as thought leader and kept them engaged. Eventually they won X procurement for X millions”
I like John’s ideas.
We’ve seen it varies a lot in getting responses even on Govloop for various questions. So I think the questions have to be super clear and crisp. The ask has to be clear and easy (it can be scary to edit a wiki sometimes but people can answer a straightforward question)
Finally, I think collaboration is so essential and we need to experiment with these new ways. My favorite quote lately is ”
we tend to overestimate the short term impact of a new product or technology, and underestimate its long term implications on the marketplace, and how competitors will react.” I would put pre-solicitation acquisitions in that bunch – I think we are frustrated when it doesn’t change overnight and worry about how hard it is…but has huge long term implications.
When I was a fed for pre-solicitation, I’d usually just use the phone or email to reach out to folks. And of course Google to find information.
June 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm #133854
We had the same discussion with OFPP on Thursday, as I am industry co-chair for the Better Government IT initiative with ACT-IAC as we work towards improving dialogue between industry and government, in addition to creating the tool set for industry and government managers to communicate and improve the overall acquisition and execution process of technology.
Several items we touched on have been addressed already, mainly the need for incentives and “what is in it for me?” What benefits are there in using collaboration tools? What is the ROI? Why take risks when I am just going to get slammed if something should happen? How will my IP and trade secrets be protected? Better off status quo and play it safe.
This is the type of feedback we are getting. It is not easy to change culture in government, perhaps this is the fundamental weakness, and the greatest challenge to success with these endeavors. Ultimately, it requires top-down leadership and vision to engage an organization to address these concerns.
By communicating early an often in the pre-acquistion phase is where the ROI can be realized. These communications will result in improved requirements, competition, RFPs, and solicitations. Think about the enormous expenditure of resources on both sides during this process, only to see it all collapse in protests or program terminations. Ultimately, improved communications will result in improved programs, and accountability to the taxpayer through meeting cost, schedule, and performance targets.
Understand that this is not a silver bullet, but a real, measurable opportunity for improvements to a process that is clearly in need of help. I hope these initiatives continue to move forward, as the interest is increasing. let’s make it happen!
June 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm #133852
June 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm #133850
Great questions! My team has been experimenting with a number of collaborative tools as we’ve executed a major system acquisition in the Coast Guard.
We consulted with the tribe here late in 2009 to get their advice on sharing two of our key requirements documents prior demonstrations we held in March of 2010 as part of our market research. We used SlideShare as a place to share the Concept of Operations and the Operational Requirements Document. There was a bit of hand-wringing within the government team on whether it was appropriate to share the draft documents, but ultimately the program management, legal, and a contracting representatives agreed it was in the government’s interest to provide industry the early visibility into our requirements.
During the demonstrations, we used a commercial screensharing tool to allow government people to view the demonstrations and participate in the government discussion afterward without the cost and hassle of travel. We used GoToMeeting, but there are many similar tools available.
As the Acquisition plan was fleshed out and the cost estimates were completed, we realized that we needed to consider alternative strategies to divide the projects into smaller chunks that would reduce risk, cost, and time to market.
We wanted industry involvement in this re-assessment process. We needed a way to provide everyone the same information on the issues we were struggling with, and a way for them to share ideas with us.
We used a wiki hosted by GSA on their citizen.apps.gov platform to support the collaboration on the acquisition strategy.
I’ve shared some of the lessons learned from that experiment in blog posts here on GovLoop:
I described the rationale for starting the wiki here:
I shared feedback from the HCA here:
After the three months study was completed, we used SurveyMonkey to ask participants for their feedback. The complete results are available here:
Here are a few things we heard:
In response to the question “Should the government continue to use a forum like this to develop further CG-LIMS RFI’s or RFP’s has been doing recently?”
“The wiki forum seems to be much more open and if it includes historical information / brainstorming type information like it has for this wiki, I think it provides valuable insight that is usually guessed at or derived. I think this leads to solutions that are more targeted to the customers needs. One caveat though is that it doesn’t protect industry intellectual property for those that want to contribute.”
“For private sector everyone stays informed… cuts way down on guessing.”
“With the weekly blog postings and wiki ther has been no ambiguity on what the Government is intending to do. As an Integrator it allows to me to focus more clearly on what my competitive approach will be.”
Proving that you can’t please everyone, we heard both:
“In person meetings are better”
“Provides good interface with Government in lieu of face to face meetings.”
We also asked: “These survey results will be shared with focus groups implementing the “25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management.” Your feedback is particularly relevant to the team implementing Point 25: “Launch interactive platform for pre-RFP agency-industry collaboration.” Based on your experience with this Acquisition Strategy wiki, is there anything you would like to share with that group? Do you have any input that hasn’t been captured above?”
“The efficiency of a wiki as compared to a series of time displacing meetings for many people, is hard to imagine, until you see it happen.”
“Government needs to use wiki as a tool for shaping and informtaion gathering. Yet not be shaped by highly active, biased, contributors. Need to understand motivations of contributors. Uncertain if there is a way to gather that data or develop accountability for content updates. Would there ever be cause for protest, based on level of wiki contributions?”
We continued to use the wiki to keep industry informed as our strategy further evolved in response to an expected reduction in out-year funding.
When we began to execute the strategy, we used the wiki to manage the questions and answers that followed the release of an RFQ for COTS software on GSA eBuy. We gave industry the option of posting questions directly to the wiki or e-mailing them to the Contracting Officer. As soon as the questions arrived through e-mail, the CO posted them to the wiki. This instant visibility reduced the number of repeat questions and let the government team focus on answering the questions without the distraction of repeat questions or multiple status updates. Here’s the RFQ Q&A page: https://wiki.citizen.apps.gov/CGLIMS/index.php/Software_RFQ_Questions_and_Answers
Here are some of the challenges I see:
1. Resistance to change: Government acquisition professionals are under tremendous pressure to know and follow an increasing number of rules. It will require education to help them understand that it is okay to do things differently.
2. Solution pollution: After the pilot and experimenting phase, I think we need to settle on some small number of tools that industry and government should be expected to learn and use. Using MediaWiki has a learning curve, but if that emerges as the platform of choice for acquisition professionals, we can learn it. It seems to work for Wikipedia, as well as plenty of government communities like Intelink, MilSuite, and many others.
3. Need to share? Need to share! Many acquisition professionals I work with still believe we need to develop a complete requirement before providing visibility to industry. As a community, I don’t think we’re convinced of the imperative to engage early with industry if we’re going to meet the government’s needs in the most effective way in declining budgets.
I’d like to see us move to institutionalize collaboration with industry, especially in the pre-RFP phase of acquisition. I’d love to see the pilots and experiments like BetterBuy grow into a mature and supported way of doing business that’s used as widely as FedBizOpps.
Until then, I’ll keep an eye on what leaders in this tribe are doing, keep stealing ideas, keep pushing the envelope, and keeping sharing what I learn!
June 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm #133848
As the Collaboration Service Manager here, I saw the merging of social media and Web 2.0 into collaborative tools. At that time (4 years ago), I started introducing social media basics. For quite a while I had to argue it wasn’t just a “teen thing”. Then I had to keep explaining how it could be used for business—for some reason people had a hard time thinking outside the box.
Several years later, I still find using social media for collaboration within the company is more challenging but finally happening. It seems that with external customers, folks are more open to it, but internally people really don’t collaborate well–must less using virtual collaboration tools.
With that said, one of the biggest victories I’ve had lately is with co-authoring of articles or messages. The usual method of sending Word documents through email are gone if I have anything to do with it (well, most of them anyhow). Today I send out a link to the draft with instructions to go to the page, make edits directly on the page (with clicks to do so), and assure them that I will even get an email with their changes highlighted when they are done. It has taken many reminders and some personal tutorial visits to show them, but everyone is now on board and even asking how they can do this on their other projects.
I consider it a victory!
July 1, 2011 at 6:31 pm #133846
Jaime, I would always welcome the opportunity to collaborate. If you are around next week, I should be relatively free given that it is a holiday week and many of my peers will be availing themselves of the opportunity to pursue a well deserved vacation in a sunny spot. Please email me at [email protected] so that we might try and find a convenient time to chat.
July 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm #133844
Great response, Dan! Thanks for the excellent summary of your efforts.
July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm #133842
One perspective I’d add is the infamous 90-9-1 rule where 90% percent of folks just consume info, 9% are somewhat active, and 1% are power users. So perhaps the numbers aren’t terribly off.
What I’ve found on GovLoop even which is a pretty innovative group of folks that still people love to lurk. And also they resonate real well to consuming types of collaboration – for example, they love our online trainings that have more structured and the Q&A is a little more private.
I think there is a continuum of collaboration possibilities and perhaps some of the most useful lowest hanging fruit is in this light collaboration.
Another idea might be is online office hours with the CO/program manager – kind of like the live chats the White House does where you can submit questions via multiple channels and they take the best and answer for everyone.
July 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm #133840
What type of collaboration you are looking to do? This posting http://personaldemocracy.com/node/20336 provides a good view of the various stages, and types of collaboration. Each type has different methods, outcomes, and success stories. And this is not just a challenge in the government space, perhaps finding examples of the type of collaboration you want to do anywhere (including outside government) would be helpful.
If you frame the question more specifically at a specific type of collaboration for a specific outcome we may be able to find more specific success stories, as things that make one collaboration successful, may make another fail. for example the success of wikis in Victoria Australia for collaborating on long term plans almost certainly had different reasons for success than the expert feedback mechanisms in Peer2Patent
(Also on an academic bent I’d recommend Cass Sunstein’s Infotopia re Jury Concordet theorem and how the methods of crowdsourcing can lead to groupthink and other sorts of bias)
July 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm #133838
We were faced with the challenge of creating an open, transparent, collaborative and continually adaptive forest planning process. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we had to build onto all of the success stories at forest and regional levels, by embracing emerging technologies. So we created a ning site (http://ourforestplace.ning.com/) and a wiki (http://livingassessment.wikispaces.com/). To avoid heaps and heaps of red tape, we had to make sure these are clearly NOT official USDA Forest Service sites. These are partnership-based collaborative efforts that will open up the dialogue about forest assessments and planning to everyone who cares.
July 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm #133836
Sara, I like your example of moving away from email to using a more collaborative approach to sharing documents via links and gathering input. It’s a concrete example that we can focus on and gets us away from using vague terms such as “web 2.0” and “social m,edia.” People understand and respond to concepts like “reducing the tyranny of email.” I wonder if better traction might be gotten by focusing during pre-RFP stages on “streamlining communications by reducing email overload” by more aggressively doing what you describe? Email won’t go away entirely but focusing on its inefficiencies might accelerate collaboration.
Dennis D. McDonald
July 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm #133834
I posted this link on the main comment wall, but thought I should log it with the rest of the ideas here…
Gadi Ben Yehuda offers several ideas for fostering “a new culture of acquisition” in this terrific blog post:
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