Transforming the digital IT acquisition workforce

Transforming the digital IT acquisition workforce
Jul 31, 2018
It’s more important than ever to keep your eye on the prize and put customer needs first.

Imagine you need a new connector to link your computer and television to watch shows online. Naturally, the old connector isn’t fitting with your new computer (sound familiar?), so you do some quick online research and head to a local electronics store. You’re greeted by a salesperson and you tell her that you need the connector you researched online. She leads you to the correct aisle and points out the connector. You thank her, she leaves.

Sounds like a pretty typical interaction, right? Anything wrong with it? Not necessarily. But it could be better. Let’s rewind.

This time, after you tell the salesperson what you’re looking for, she doesn’t just offer to help—she asks questions. What kinds of devices are you trying to connect? What kind of computer do you have? At the end of the day, you walk out with a different connector—one that you’ve learned is actually the better fit for your set up.

What’s different about these two interactions? In the first, which we’ll call “Give ‘Em What They Ask For,” the salesperson responds to what you asked; in the second, which we’ll call “Keepin’ Our Eyes on the Prize,” she asks what you’re trying to achieve and then talks you through some options for getting there.

When it comes to buying digital services for government, acquisition professionals need the latter mindset. They need to act as strategic advisors to program offices so that they can structure digital services solicitations to support delivery, and enable program offices to deliver awesome digital services to the American people. This starts with asking questions—questions focused on the people being served by the digital service. What do users need to be able to do with the digital service you’re buying and creating? Given that, how do we help them achieve that goal? How do we incrementally build and test with users to ensure we’re getting them closer to the goal? How do we iterate based on what we learn?

Adapting to a shifting landscape

The move towards this mindset mirrors an even bigger shift in the ways digital services are being created. “Waterfall” approaches to creating digital services have been replaced with more agile, iterative approaches. User needs are front and center. Consistent with the President’s Management Agenda and other ongoing transformation efforts, the acquisition community is working to transform how they buy digital services to support this iterative, human-centered, experimental approach.

And agencies are already making strides—consider the recently awarded work to create IT Modernization Centers of Excellence at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) or the Pentagon’s 2017 “bug bounty” experiment. To support this transformation government-wide, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) recently released the new Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting Core-Plus Specialization in Digital Services (FAC-C-DS); by 2022, OFPP will require a certified digital service acquisition professional to participate in every digital service procurement over $7 million.

To earn their FAC-C-DS, acquisition professionals must complete the Digital IT Acquisition Professional (DITAP) Program through a government-approved vendor—and ICF is proud to be the first certified vendor! While we love every opportunity to help the America public, we’re especially excited about this opportunity and the program we’re offering. Here are three reasons why:

  • Lifelong learning is now the name of the game. Gone are the days when we could learn a skill or trade early in life and then be set to use it for the rest of our lives. The world is changing rapidly, and our skills must change with it. The DITAP Program embraces this fact, equipping acquisition professionals with the knowledge and skills they need today—and the mindset and tools to continue learning over time.
  • Sometimes peer pressure is good. Ever try to change a habit—to start eating healthier, to exercise more, to get more sleep? Chances are that trying to change your habits worked a lot better when you had others cheering you on along the way and holding you accountable. The same is true when it comes to changing behavior at work—we need people who can give us feedback, help us reflect, and give us the jolt of energy we need to push through a challenging task. The DITAP Program creates that community for learners by connecting them to the broader acquisition and digital services community.
  • Solving complex, ambiguous challenges calls for a different kind of strategy. Buying digital services requires creativity, flexibility, and strategic thinking. It requires thinking differently about how to comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulations while also ensuring you can meet evolving user needs. These challenges are complex, and they can be ambiguous. The DITAP Program helps learners practice techniques that help them embrace complexity and ambiguity and work with—not against—it.

We’re passionate about the DITAP Program, and about helping the government deliver awesome digital services to the American public. Want to learn more about how we’re doing that? Check out the DITAP Program we offer and then check out the 2018 Federal Digital Trends Report for more about government digital transformation.

Lauren Tindall is a Learning and Development Manager with nine years of experience supporting individuals, teams, and organizations on their learning and change journeys. Collaborative and empathetic, Ms. Tindall’s deep knowledge of learning and development theory and practice enables her to design solutions for a wide range of clients and learners, from blended learning programs for the federal government to experiential leader development programs for the private sector. She will earn her M.S. in Learning & Organizational Change from Northwestern University in Spring 2019.

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