Wayne Gretzky advances the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks' Troy Murray in 1987 at Chicago Stadium.

Wayne Gretzky advances the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks' Troy Murray in 1987 at Chicago Stadium. AP file photo

3 Myths That Cripple Acquisition: Myth No. 3 Envisioning the Future Is a Waste of Time

Moving the puck forward will require Gretzky-style foresight.

This column is the last in a series about three myths that hamper government’s ability to modernize its acquisition process.

"Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."—Wayne Gretzky, leading point-scorer in National Hockey League history

Wayne Gretzky is the only National Hockey League player to score 200 or more points in a season. He did it four times, also a record, largely by envisioning where pucks would be, getting there first and scoring or assisting in goals.

Only Gretzky-style foresight and imagination will overcome the problems now crippling federal acquisition. Like hockey’s hero, to succeed we must think ahead beyond the crisis of the day and develop a vision of where acquisition is going to be.  

Until federal buyers and sellers have a view of what acquisition can become and what value it could deliver, we will continue spending billions of dollars on “fixing” the current system, rather than investing in strategic choices to shape the future.

Since 2013, government executives, industry thought leaders, and acquisition professionals have been convening through a movement called Acquisition of the Future to envision the desired state of their profession and identify a range of strategic choices to help achieve it.

We have examined the forces of acquisition transformation: changing global dynamics, emerging technologies, and the growing expectations of a new generation of citizens and employees.

Many have responded to the Acquisition of the Future effort with a collective “hurrah!” and energetic engagement, but others have said:

  • “Thinking about the future is a waste of time because we won’t see results from that discussion for five years; it’s just not practical.”
  • “Talking about years from now means taking time away from moving today’s mountain of work.”
  • “Why talk about the future when I don’t know what it will be and there is nothing I can do about it in the current system.”

These responses illustrate acquisition myth No. 3, which clouds our thinking, creates resistance, and prevents us from acting.

The acquisition community is being encouraged to remain in the current condition—managing today’s workload, solving current problems and overcoming the crisis of the day. There is no safe space for conversation or contemplation about where we want to go or what we want to become in this new age.

Yet we all know that creating a common vision provides us something to aim for and catalyzes immediate, practical, and positive actions and impacts.

When people understand and share a goal—a platoon taking a hill, firefighters saving a house, a team driving to score, a community raising funds to support those in need—we bond, plan, act, measure progress, and use resources and investments strategically to achieve the objectives. Having a target makes us more efficient, effective, cohesive, focused and responsive.

Fundamentally, acquisition reform initiatives are futile because they have been aimed at solving problems created by the nature of our Industrial Age institutions, rather than at transforming our system to fit the Collaboration Age. The dynamics include:

  • Seamless connection, global openness and collaboration that have driven down transaction costs.
  • Rapidly advancing and disruptive technologies.
  • Social production via social media.
  • The rise of the first generation to grow up awash in technology and constant interconnection.
  • Worldwide questioning of the value of all institutions, including government.

Even now, Pentagon leaders are determined to reform acquisition through Better Buying Power 3.0 and additional measures. Congress appears poised to create new authorities in an effort to improve IT buying through the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. Dozens of similar initiatives are under way across the federal sector.

The intent of these efforts is laudable, but like many past reforms, they lack a clear, long-term view of our country’s needs, the value acquisition can provide and the context within which it will operate in the future. As with Newton’s first law of motion, if we do not determine a new direction and act on it, we will continue on the current, wholly unsatisfactory and ineffective path.

So, what would happen if we took the long view?

We might imagine a future that includes, say, governmentwide acquisition decision support assistants powered by cognitive computing that could draw on all acquisition regulations and data for every procurement, every solicitation, every price paid and every contract type, along with their requirements.

We could imagine such assistants analyzing all that information and providing for every new requirement a set of possible acquisition strategies ranked by the likelihood they would achieve quality results within budget and on time. If that were possible, then wouldn’t procurement professionals be able to perform higher value work and be the business advisers they’ve been striving to become?

In fact, such a day might not be far off. Cognitive computing already is delivering plausible cancer diagnoses and treatment plans at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.  Now that same system has begun ingesting federal procurement rules and data.

If our shared future view included such decision assistants, then wouldn’t we now be taking practical steps to enable them, such as changing data ownership and sharing policies, encouraging cross-agency data use, and investing in collecting the right kinds of data in appropriate formats?

This is just one example of technology that exists and could be—arguably should be—shaping our thinking about the greater value federal acquisition can and should deliver. The example demonstrates that if we knew where we wanted to go, we could take practical steps toward that future now.

To reimagine acquisition, we need to muster Collaboration Age possibilities. We must chart a sound course and measure our progress toward a different, citizen-centric, value-focused future.  This calls for unity of effort in the acquisition community and a shared vision of what we’re trying to achieve and deliver.

Envisioning acquisition of the future together enables us to make strategic choices that take advantage of Collaboration Age realities, rather than remaining stuck with Industrial Age approaches that no longer apply and that certainly don’t deliver the newly expected value.

It’s time for us to imagine the possibilities and set our direction toward acquisition of the future. Because if not now, when? And if not us, who?

Kymm McCabe is chief executive officer of ASI Government, which provides acquisition and program management support, research, education, news and online tools to federal acquisition professionals at more than 130 agencies. Read about more ASI ideas here.

NEXT STORY: Hillary Clinton's Rules for Women

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.