I was fortunate enough to attend the NCMA World Congress in Cleveland in July and was impressed by how the Federal Government is both embracing the use of emerging technologies to enhance their technical acquisition solutions as well as seeking to refine their Acquisition System user experience. Based on attending multiple presentations and speaking with over 50 attendees ranging from Contract Specialists through Chief Procurement Officers, I have the following 5 takeaways from the conference.
5 Key Takeaways from NCMA
- User Experience has become paramount: it is not enough to have an acquisition system that automates workflows, reduces cycle times and integrates with financial systems. The desire for an enhanced User Experience was noted by a majority of attendees. They sought more intuitive user interfaces and more refined workflows to reflect the reality of their acquisition business processes.
- AI and its derivatives of Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing are being used to enhance Category Management and its sub-component of Strategic Sourcing. For example, HHS utilized AI and its derivatives to assist in identifying and parsing transactional data into the GSA defined spend categories.
- Robotic Process Automation – allows for the automation of mundane tasks within the acquisition lifecycle freeing acquisition SMEs to focus on high value work and reduce overall cycle time. Capabilities of RPA include suggesting appropriate contract clauses, moving files and folders, copying and pasting, extracting structured data from documents and filing in forms. RPA is either under consideration or deployed in 23 Federal Agencies.
- Block Chain provides a framework of linked data records in a secure immutable ledger that preserves vital information in a distributed highly available form based on trust and transparency. A blockchain ledger can be helpful in recording transactions from multiple distributed organization Acquisition Systems within a large Federal Agency to form a single data layer for category analysis via tools such as AI, Machine Learning and the like.
- MicroServices is an architectural framework for developing software that uses individual self-contained modules of code created for highly defined and focused tasks that will communicate with other modules and systems via universally acceptable APIs. The philosophy of a Microservice is to do one thing and do it well. Microservices can be used in conjunction with AI and Blockchain to abstract a data layer for Category analysis. They can also be used to implement any discreet business capability or process around the acquisition value chain such as workflow, requisition, approval etc. Their advantage can be the ability to quickly create and/or update functionality as system requirements evolve. However, because they are highly focused self-contained mini modules focused on specific tasks, significant planning and coordination must take place between multiple microservice development teams in regards to deployment, testing and inter-microservice communication.
Through its adoption of emerging technologies and a desire for a better user experience, the Federal Government is signaling its move away from those legacy acquisition systems deemed “adequate” for the job at hand. These emerging technologies when combined with an extensible robust Procurement Platform can yield greater efficiencies in cycle time, costs, category management and user experience.
That said, there seems to be a gap, according to a 2017 Governing Institute survey the tech-fueled purchasing revolution has been slow to catch on in most governments. Only 35 percent of respondents, for example, said they have up-to-date spending information and market metrics in their databases even though nearly two-thirds cited such areas as critical to success.
We are seeing things change fast however. At Ivalua, we continue to serve several public sector customers in their efforts to transform and digitize state, local and federal procurement. Our modern, proven cloud platform is uniquely designed to enable Procurement groups, users and suppliers to free up capacity, automate processes, make better decisions and take a strategic approach to managing spend and suppliers. The platform’s unique flexibility allows us to meet the many unique and evolving requirements of public procurement.
Ivalua has been recognized as a leader by Gartner for three consecutive strategic sourcing magic quadrant reports with capabilities from Sourcing and Contract Management through Procure-to-Pay and Advanced Analytics. Its open APIs allow integration with a myriad of systems including various ERPs. Ivalua’s highly configurable workflows, ease of supplier and buyer adoption combined with its intuitive logical user interface has resulted in a 98% customer retention rate over the 17-year lifetime of the eProcurement Platform.