Federal agency virtual industry days are probably now a permanent part of the acquisition toolkit, according to practitioners.
Virtual industry days are here to stay, according to Melissa Oh, managing director, of the Department of Homeland Security's Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP).
"One of the things I think may change permanently is the use of virtual platforms to do virtual industry days," she said during an emerging technology and procurement panel at the ACT-IAC Executive Leadership Conference on Oct. 27.
Three top agency tech acquisition officials agreed that traditional agency in-person meetings with industry reps to discuss acquisition plans were not as productive as the current virtual variety.
"I have found a significant uptick in participation in our virtual industry days. We had 1,000 people registered for our COVID industry day," Oh said. The virtual meeting, she said, has more reach. The COVID virtual day had participants from all over the globe.
"There is a loss of not having that face-to-face interaction," she said, but the spread of collaborative platforms pushed by the pandemic is driving the trend.
"COVID is the best accident that ever happened to change management," said Mitch Winans, senior advisor, for Enterprise Digitalization at the IRS.
The tax agency, he said, had a virtual emerging technology day earlier this month that drew 750 attendees. "That's by far the largest industry day we've ever had."
The COVID pandemic, like World War II, 9/11 and other historic stressful events, has injected fundamental changes in unexpected way, according to Winans.
Chris Hamm, director of the General Services Administration's Federal Systems Integration and Management (FedSIM) center agreed.
GSA's acquisition staff numbering in the hundreds went all-virtual in March, said Hamm. "We traditionally would have had an in-person industry day, in-person due diligence sessions, and oral presentations" from industry and vendors. "Those have all been entirely done around the country and around the world using [virtual] platforms," he said.
The more permanent use of virtual industry meetings can lead to better procurements, according to Hamm.
Workers from both federal agencies and vendors are still working on using common platforms and tweaking their home videoconferencing set ups, said Hamm, but all that will eventually be settled.
As that process unfolds, Hamm said his agency is seeing better results. "What we're seeing in the process, is better technical engagement from people that otherwise might not have been available to go to the meeting," he said. Wider breadths of people participating will lead to better requirements and better outcomes.