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FCW : November 30, 2013
Commentary | FERN WARD Government Accountability Of ce reports af rm the need for contin- ual oversight and effective man- agement of IT projects, but agency budget and staf ng allocations are not rising to meet those needs. Consider, for example, a GAO report released earlier this year that discussed the actions needed to protect government information systems and cyber critical infra- structures. The report recommends further de nition of roles and responsibilities, milestones and per- formance measures --- and greater oversight of strategy. GAO reviews emphasize the ele- ments of successful IT programs, which include knowledgeable program staff, effective communica- tion, de ned and accepted require- ments, and stable, consistent staff. In a perfect world, it would be easy. But federal workers must do their best in a decidedly imperfect world. Agencies must continually innovate while maintaining critical legacy systems, and they must plan for the long term while adapting to evolving priorities. In the face of those challenges, agencies strategies for outsourcing IT services become very important. One promising approach is multi- sourcing, or the use of multiple providers of IT services instead of a single, large provider of a suite of services. The single-source provider with a long-term contract has been a com- mon model of federal IT services acquisition. Such contracts give agencies the bene t of having one contractor responsible for the pro- vision of IT services over a period of time. The downside, though, is that agencies might have to be more proactive in requiring cost- saving initiatives and innovation from the contractor over the life of the contract. Enter multisourcing, with its pro- mise of innovation and increased opportunities for competition among multiple contractors. It gives agencies the exibility to select better-performing contractors, boosts the potential for competition and innovation, and saves money because agencies are not paying the margin of a large contractor manag- ing many subcontractors. Multisourcing does, however, present some risks for agencies. Employees must manage and coordi- nate the activities of many contrac- tors in a multisourcing environment. Unless responsibilities and roles are clearly de ned, certain functions might be duplicated or overlooked. If performance is not up to par, disputes might arise over the cause, particularly where one contractor s performance is dependent on anoth- er s. And the time federal employ- ees spend addressing issues might quickly erode any cost savings. When you consider that some of the critical elements of successful multisourcing --- de ned roles and responsibilities, requirements and measurements, and close communi- cation --- are the same ones that are already dif cult for agencies in single-source contracting, it is clear that of cials must carefully plan for successful multisourcing. One key tool is the use of operat- ing level agreements in conjunction with contractual provisions and service-level agreements. OLAs might de ne the functions of the multisource contractors, ensure protection of their con dential information, and establish process- es for coordinating deliverables. Like any acquisition strategy, multisource contracting only works if it ts the agency s needs and environment. Multisourcing is well- suited to acquisitions in which: • The requirements and outcomes are well de ned. • Agency personnel will stay rela- tively constant throughout the project. • Agency priorities and require- ments are not likely to shift over the life of the project. • Operating procedures and plat- forms are standardized. • The selected contractors have proven expertise and experience in collaborative environments. ■ Better contracting through multisourcing The approach can help reduce risk and improve oversight at a time when agencies are being asked to do more with less Multisourcing gives agencies the flexibility to select better-performing contractors. FERN WARD is general counsel at IntelliDyne, where she oversees legal, ethics and compliance matters. November 30, 2013 FCW.COM 15
November 15, 2013