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FCW : May 15, 2013
Commentary | JIM SOLTYS "True wisdom is knowing what you don t know." That quote by Confu- cius makes you wonder if he was on the autopsy committee of one of our bigger IT system failures. Each review seems to zero in on deci- sions made and money spent when we thought we knew but didn t. Representatives of each specialty involved seem to know what they know, but no one worries about what we don t know. My wife and I recently went through the stressful process of buying a home, in the course of which we hired a home inspector. The inspector had no con icts of interest, came with excellent past- performance references and was a subject-matter expert in this eld. He found problems that we would never even have thought to look for. Working with our realtor to ensure that these items were taken care of before we closed on the house gave us peace of mind and eliminated potential headaches later. Government buyers of technol- ogy products and services are no different. They want to acquire the right solution while avoiding down- stream problems. In the acquisition process, the program of ce identi- es its needs, just as we did, and works with the contracting of ce, just as we did with the realtor, to negotiate contracts with vendors. But where is the home inspector in this scenario? My wife and I don t have time to be experts in realty contracts or home inspections, so we out- sourced those functions. Likewise, program of ce personnel, includ- ing technical experts, are typically busy with the essential functions of executing the agency s mis- sion. More important, most are not skilled in the acquisition of technol- ogy. Likewise, contracting of cers have enough to do without becom- ing technology experts as well. Wouldn t it make more sense for the government to obtain the equivalent of a home inspector to assist with complex technology acquisitions? Done right, outsourc- ing acquisition "home inspection" functions to an independent set of technology experts could yield the following outcomes: • Acquisition requirements that are right from the beginning due to the availability of accessible domain and process expertise. • Less ambiguity and lower pro- posal costs for vendors because requirements are more likely to be in a language they understand. • Faster and more ef cient evalua- tions because domain and acquisi- tion experts can analyze vendor proposals for technical and "gam- ing" issues that evaluators, with their more limited experience, might miss. • Fewer protests, especially suc- cessful ones, due to more thorough and consistently documented evaluations. • Fewer post-award surprises (e.g., change orders or unenforce- able terms and conditions) from unrecognized structural aws in an acquisition. Government personnel are under tremendous pressure. Can resource- constrained program and contract- ing of ces really be expected to develop the technical expertise to successfully acquire the needed innovations for the increasingly digital government? Is it reasonable to expect the buyer to do the "home inspection," too? If not, is it safe to simply trust the builder? My home-buying experience tells me that the answer to each of these questions is no, and I believe many if not most government program and contracting of ces, and their vendors, would agree. The solution of a small but skilled community of SME service providers is often overlooked because the cause and effects don t show up in obvious and immediate ways. But listen to Confucius: This problem has been around for a long while. ■ The value of a 'home inspector' for IT acquisitions In the manner of Confucius, agencies should admit what they don't know and consider having technology experts review acquisitions Representatives of each specialty involved in IT systems seem to know what they know, but no one worries about what we don't know. JIM SOLTYS is an account and project manager at Noblis. May 15, 2013 FCW.COM 15
April 30, 2013
May 30, 2013