Last year, a conversation between Amazon Business and one of the senior leaders in government contract management today was hosted at NCMA’s Government Contract Management Symposium. This session opened many people’s eyes to the technological “disruption” we’re all familiar with in our private lives, but not always in our professional ones.
Today, many of us have fully “plugged” ourselves into the digital automation of the modern day. We shop and acquire a whole host of products and services online; stream our music, books, and other forms of entertainment; engage actively in social media and other forms of previously non-existent forms of communication; hail car rides here and there, etc. while continually downloading new apps to our smartphones (anyone still hanging on to their flip phones out there?) to facilitate ever more management of daily tasks and lifestyle behaviors. Looking back just five years ago, when compared to today and the changes in our lives are quite dramatic.
However, any form of significant, wide-scale implementation of this “technological disruption” in federal programs or contracts is still in relative infancy. Yet, seemingly out of nowhere, a proposed “DATA Act” this year would require the Department of Defense to develop an “online marketplace” (that is, an Amazon-like platform solely for defense acquisition), which has many thinking of how that may upend existing policies and processes. What about small business or other socioeconomic goals? What about the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA)? What about sealed bidding and negotiated procurement as we know it today? What about the roles of agencies such as GSA, DLA, and VA in centralized contracting and provisioning? Similarly, what about the future of governmentwide acquisition contracts—such as SEWP, NITACC, and the Federal Acquisition Schedules—as centralized contracting instruments?
There is much to learn and define as this form of “disruption” comes, just as there is much to prepare for as those tools used to execute “smart contract management” become more intelligent. Yes, the roles and responsibilities of today’s contract management professional may change, but certainly how those roles and responsibilities are executed will definitely change.
Today’s contract management professional must (like everyone else) be prepared for this forthcoming sea change. If you didn’t think it could happen to you—think again. NCMA’s Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK) already reflects this shifting paradigm, adding new professional competencies and expanding the “reach” of today’s contract management professional to become more multidisciplinary in role, including ever greater reliance on “soft-skills” for success. If you pride yourself on your complete understanding of the FAR and strict adherence to processes and policy, congratulations; you know the rules and can apply them. However, start complementing and expanding those abilities by developing other business competencies, which will be necessary for future success. Don’t wait for some policy office to issue guidance, or DAU to offer a new class.
Just as many of us no longer use agents to book hotels, cruises, or other vacations in favor of online travel services such as Expedia and Orbitz; or have traded in our cable TV packages for streaming video services (known as “cutting the cord”); or cancelled our newspaper and magazine subscriptions for free or paywall online news services, the entire contract management enterprise is shifting to more digitally driven, results-oriented models—which means today’s contract management professionals must reevaluate their skill sets and reassess their value-add. The analytics and measuring tools available continue to increase. Can you not only use them, but just as with understanding existing statute and regulation, can you interpret and apply them? Do you have relationship-building skills relevant in today’s team-oriented, business management program culture?
There was a time when being strict and inflexible might have been considered an asset in the contract management profession—e.g., noncompromising or hardball tactics that ensure adherence to process, technical integrity, and meeting negotiation goals. All that still matters, but automation has filled some of that expertise with improved analytics and data, placing greater reliance on “soft skills” for professional growth and success.
It’s important for all of us to prepare for this coming technological “disruption.” It’s already arriving. Make sure you’re ready, so you offer the improved professional contract management alternative when your company or agency “cuts the contract management cord!”