Acquisition

What CIOs really want from contractors

government industry dialog

Three senior federal IT officials shared some dos and don'ts for contractors at AFCEA Bethesda's Jan. 14 Legacy Systems Modernization breakfast.

They agreed that the problem of outdated and redundant legacy systems -- encapsulated by Natural Resources Conservation Service CIO Ray Coleman's quip, "[Expletive], we have 10 systems doing the same thing" -- is ripe territory for contractors to help.

But Ann Dunkin, CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency, told contractors in the audience not to expect her to be involved in every procurement decision. Her packed schedule also means she likely won't be able to schedule lunch dates with industry representatives.

Flexibility and team spirit were high on her priority list for good contractor fits. "Come to our agile contract and be prepared to contribute small bits of functionality to our projects rather than [stick to] this idea that you're in your own whole program," she said.

Coleman, meanwhile, advised contractors not to get hung up on the latest buzzword. When it comes to contractors who push "agile" too hard, he said he has found himself thinking, "OK, do I really want to talk to you?"

Agile methodology can be a painful change for feds, and Coleman said, "I love the concept of agile, but we find we're happier in a hybrid model."

He added that he has been able to log a 10 percent reduction in operations and maintenance  spending in the past year -- the kind of spending U.S. CIO Tony Scott has repeatedly decried -- by tightening the definition of O&M and recognizing that spending that doesn't fit his O&M definition is often associated with new system development.

James Porter, an IT portfolio manager at the Department of Homeland Security, echoed Dunkin and Coleman by bashing the stilted capital planning and investment control process, and calling on industry to embrace smaller chunks of work instead of the massive contracts of the past.

Going forward, he said, modular, forward-thinking design will be a big plus.

Dunkin agreed, adding:  "Our goal for modernization is to make sure we're not building the next legacy system." 

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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