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Rebooting the Failed Federal Acquisition Process

October 1, 2012 - Reston, VA

Despite changes in the Federal Acquisition Reform (FAR) process, improvement in federal procurement has been hobbled by outdated approaches to application development. Force-fitting commercial off the shelf (COTS) products combined with a "waterfall" approach to writing software has created cost over-runs and other failures in federal acquisition and contract writing systems, translating directly into wasted taxpayer dollars.

New technology now exists to reboot the failing federal procurement development process. One example is Business Process Management (BPM) software, utilizing procurement-specific Application Frameworks, social business collaboration and native mobility. In a new white paper titled, "What Federal Acquisition Professionals Need to Know About the New IT Landscape," software developer Appian discusses advances in technology -- and examines the questions procurement professionals have to keep in mind when sourcing this technology. (The white paper is available for download at

Procurement IT problems echo general IT failings noted first by former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra. In December 2010, Kundra introduced his 25-Point Plan for Federal IT Reform by saying, "Despite spending more than $600 billion on information technology over the past decade, the Federal Government has achieved little of the productivity improvements that private industry has realized from IT. Too often, Federal IT projects run over budget, behind schedule, or fail to deliver promised functionality."

Kundra's successor Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel has continued to champion the cause for government IT procurement improvement. In May of this year his office published "Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People," a 12-month roadmap pushing for the accelerated deployment of modern Federal IT systems.

Out-dated modes of application development are a main problem, Appian contends. The sequential Waterfall approach is so linked to agency IT failure that some have mandated it out of existence. Force-fitting COTS applications for specific agency needs carries considerable added expense, complicated manual workarounds, and difficult data integration challenges.

According to the Appian white paper, there are four distinct components to next-generation technology that will eliminate these problems:

  • Business Process Management (BPM) Platform - A codeless development environment using drag-and-drop icons to create functional applications allows software engineers to focus more on enhanced capabilities instead of application logic. When changes are needed, they can be rapidly implemented.
  • Acquisition "Framework" - A framework with common acquisition process elements accelerates development and lowers costs, shortening the go-live time, and increasing initial functionality.
  • Native Mobile Clients - "Write once, deploy anywhere" functionality eliminates hard-coding specific application functions across a variety of desktop and mobile platforms. Mobile apps can be created with no cash investment in building mobile clients. Mobile app maintenance is dramatically reduced.
  • Integrated Social Communication - Social collaboration tied directly to process events increases application utility, and enables better, faster operational decisions. Social technology woven into the integration capabilities of a modern BPM platform makes this possible.

To ensure that federal procurement professionals can gain access to this next generation technology, Appian advises that RFIs and RFPs include certain specific provisions:

  • Ask for "COTS-based" - Mandating a "COTS only" solution search may preclude next-generation systems, which aren't technically considered "off-the-shelf."
  • Cut Long Functionality Checklists - Flexible new technology platforms and acquisition frameworks may not specifically include many checklist items because they are so easily added later.
  • Evaluate and Score Architecture - Evaluation criteria should be based on underlying solution architecture -- now critical because of the variety of architecture models available.
  • Require Demonstrations of Core Logic Changes - New architectures make rapid changes possible, so ask for a demonstration to understand your options.
  • Require Scoping for an Incremental Build Out - Next generation systems built on BPM platforms can be extended for related functionality. Be sure vendors state how they would meet such a request and what it would cost.
  • Require Native Mobile Clients and Social Communications - "Cloud First," "Shared First," and "Future First" guidelines will surely lead to "Mobile First" and "Social First" initiatives as well. Include evaluations for mobile and social technology to get ahead of these likely changes.

"Federal procurement is the starting point for delivering the agency services that federal employees and U.S. citizens depend upon," said Evan McDonnell, author of the report and Vice President of Solutions at Appian. "Current procurement and solution development systems and approaches are broken. It is in the best interests of Federal procurement professionals, of agency IT leadership and of the American people to look at new technologies and new ways."

About Appian
Appian delivers everything needed to drive better business decisions, actions and results. All the data, all the processes, all the documents and all the collaborations -- in one environment, on any device, through a simple social interface. The Appian BPM Suite is available on-premise and in the cloud, with complete portability. More than 3.5 million users, from Fortune 100 companies to the mid-market and small businesses worldwide, trust Appian to power their critical business processes. For more information, visit

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For Information Contact:
Ben Farrell
Director, Corporate Communications
+1 703.442.1067
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