How To Be Excellent!

Excelling is often defined as going above and beyond what’s expected. So in its very nature, achieving excellence is not something that should come easily. In government contracting, excelling is not something that’s common sense. It’s a complex task, and it takes teamwork and collaboration for government workers to understand the best ways of going about this together.

The American Council for Technology – Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) recently hosted an event on “Acquisition Excellence 2015: Exploring the Future of Collaboration and Innovation”. Christopher Dorobek, host of the podcast DorobekINSIDER, moderated a shark tank competition between panelists on the future of government acquisitions and innovation.

The panel included speakers:
• Dave Grant, Chief Procurement Officer at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS)
• Leslie Steele, CEO of InterImage
• Shelly Johnson Jones, Contracting Officer at United States Secret Service
• Brian Green, Senior Vice President of Sales and Solution Development, Learning Tree International

First of all, what is a shark tank competition? And how does it spark innovation? Basically, it’s a competition where speakers give brief pitches of their ideas to judges or investors (“sharks”) in order to gain backing or funding for their idea. By introducing the sense that there are rewards for innovative ideas, as well as by putting pressure on people to develop their ideas, this type of activity can spark thinking and creativity.

According to Green, shark tank competitions are especially relevant for government employees. “It mirrors a lot of how work gets done in government in many ways when there’s a crisis or a last second decision that needs to happen,” he explained. “So there are skills here that are applied in these formats that are absolutely applicable… These little events tap into the psyche to say we need quick ideas right now that are implementable, and I think we achieved that.”

A couple of themes and ideas emerged from the innovative ideas presented in the shark tank. With this exercise, it became clear that we’re moving towards the ‘acquisition of the future’. But what does that really mean?

In many ways, it means investing in the upcoming workforce. According to Green, “There’s a lot of talk around the acquisition of the future. The acquisition ecosystem as a whole has lots of challenges. As opposed to focusing on the past, we wanted to focus on the future – and the future really is the next generation. There are twenty- and thirty- something’s that are in the private sector or just coming into the public sector, and we need to ensure that the environment really mirrors what they’re accustomed to, which is data at their fingertips to make decisions and advance their own profession.”

Another thing that the future means for acquisition is shared data. According to Steele, the key characteristic here establishing standards and commonalities. “You have to start at the data level, and have common definitions and common standards of all those data elements,” she explained.

From there on out, data is much more widely transferrable and applicable to all acquisitions platforms and IT systems. It allows for government agencies to create apps with the existing data if it’s shared well between organizations.

“It’s all in the data,” said Green. “If the data’s there, then the uses of that data are a myriad of different opportunities present themselves.”

So, the panelists were certainly under the gun while the competition lasted. But if they can do it in their normal jobs, shark tank is no big deal! And at the end of the day, we’re left with some great new innovations on how to make government contracting absolutely excellent.

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