I read a very interesting article by Matthew Cornelius, executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI), on leveraging Best-In-Class (BIC) contracts to maximize innovation and improved mission delivery through commercial technologies. Laudable goals that I believe are not always achieved through the BIC strategy, or that of Category Management initiatives holistically, as outlined in a recent Government Accountability Office report.
I wholeheartedly agree with the need to rethink the BIC strategy, and why the current initiatives may not meet the needs of the end user:
“Now is the time for OMB and GSA to use the scale of the BIC solutions as an accelerant and preferred pathway to continuous innovation and improved mission delivery through commercial tech. Doing so is vital to ensure that the vendor pool involved in these contracts are constantly producing and providing the actual best-in-class solutions that customers deserve. The pace of change of solutions delivery mirrors that of technology — imagine selecting a technology today from a group that was pre-approved five years ago. No 5G, no blockchain, no edge computing, no artificial intelligence. [emphasis added]. Too often, vendor pools get set at the rollout of a BIC solution (or, surely, in other GWACs) based on the initial assessment and evaluation. And, absent any compelling circumstances or rules defined by the contract manager, the initial vendors remain on the contract for its useful life, even if they rarely bid on or win work against that vehicle.”
As a result, many in government look to leverage acquisition authorities such as Other Transaction Authority or the Commercial Solutions Opening Program. Further, innovation labs across the government encourage agility in the procurement and piloting phases of IT acquisitions, such as the Pilot IRS program at the Internal Revenue Service.
These are great initiatives, but the continued focus on BICs makes emerging technology procurements difficult, as is the waiver process normally required to not use them, adding needless time to rapid acquisition of commercial tech.
The recommendations on improving BICs in the article are sound, but what if we took these improvements towards emerging tech? Many agencies are actively creating internal blanket purchase agreements for these technologies (e.g., Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, etc.), but what if a BIC contract existed for emerging tech?
Some of these principles such as rapid on boarding and off-boarding, outcome based requirements, pricing at the task order level, strong debriefs, commercial-focused buying and contractual terms, etc. may help create a robust ecosystem of specialized technology firms that can help drive innovation in these tech areas. Further, the training components can also be rigorous to help lower barriers to entry for small businesses and non-traditional firms so they can be successful on this proposed vehicle, and as government contractors.
As agencies continue to drive the use of BICs, there is definitely room for improvement on the use of these vehicles. Perhaps using a BIC in a non-traditional technology solution might be on the horizon?