Mitigating the Government Procurement Gap

Feeding government user “app-etites”


In 2013, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) considered why the federal government was attempting to develop and deliver meaningful geospatial mobile apps to U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and Department of Defense (DoD) personnel using its formal contract process.

For those who aren’t familiar with the process, when the federal government purchases software, services, or physical products required to support its workforce, acquisitions personnel work tirelessly to find and deliver these goods in the shortest amount of time possible—and government acquisitions can be tedious at best.

A traditional timeline from user request to delivery can look something like this:

  1. Receiving, documenting, and vetting the end user request (3-6 months)
  2. Writing a formal contract with a list of required deliverables (18+ months)
  3. Distributing a request for proposal (RFP) and executing a competitive bid cycle (2-4 months)
  4. Evaluating all bids received and sending notification of contract award to a private sector company (3-12 months or more)
  5. Contract execution in which the successful completion is based solely on written contract requirements

The Need for an Innovative Delivery Model

The federal acquisitions process works well with physical goods, services, and some software purchase agreements. These deliverables typically use a “waterfall delivery approach” that aligns well with the government process—especially when the deliverable is a tangible item such as “a building will be here in five years, and will have this many doors, house this many people, and meet this general mission area.”

Mobile app development, however, doesn’t utilize a waterfall delivery method, instead it operates within a scaled agile development model through which small capabilities are delivered to meet known requirements with the added ability to rapidly adapt based on technological advancements, changing user needs, and mobile phone enhancements. For example, developing and delivering a mobile app under the traditional federal acquisitions process could yield a mobile app in 2018 using only iPhone 5 requirements and capabilities, since those would have been the written requirements at contract award in 2013. 

As a result, NGA realized it was delivering apps rendered useless upon arrival—and to make matters worse, there weren’t follow-on contracts to update the apps or to ensure compatibility with future operating system changes. In this environment, nobody was winning.

How Engility Bridged the Gap

Recognizing the agency’s need for a better way to access apps and already equipped with an internally-developed brokerage process, Engility was selected in late 2014 to provision NGA’s Innovative GEOINT Application Provider Program (IGAPP) contract vehicle and serve as the procurement arm for mobile apps now available in NGA’s GEOINT App Store. Under IGAPP, Engility acts as the trusted broker between commercial vendors and the government, providing registered and approved app vendors with the infrastructure and support to build, test, and launch innovative mapping apps using geospatial data from NGA and other defense and intelligence community partners.

Engility evaluates all mobile app submissions for NGA and ensures the delivery of safe and secure apps in months rather than years. Engility removes the barriers to entry for developers of any size (from small, one-person businesses up to billion-dollar corporations) and breaks down the barriers faced by users hoping for a capability. Many developers challenged by daunting timelines and specialized contract procedures to obtain federal contracts change their perception from “why bother?” to “why not?” after being introduced to the new opportunities highlighted by IGAPP.

Engility also designed a unique procurement opportunity for all mobile app developers as highlighted during the third-annual IGAPP Grand Challenge in 2018. The IGAPP Grand Challenge is an annual contest in which IGAPP-approved app vendors participate in a two-month “hackathon,” building and delivering mobile apps addressing DoD-mission needs. During each Grand Challenge, IGAPP removes development guesswork through Vendor Opportunity Packages that contain vital information captured from hundreds of interviews with DoD and IC personnel during DoD Tech Showcases at military installations throughout the world.

The 2018 Grand Challenge was structured to include DoD-user needs from three mission areas, which resulted in a record number of IGAPP-approved app vendors delivering 12 mobile apps for the competition, vying for a total of $25,000 in available awards. Winners were recognized by NGA Director Robert Cardillo, Engility CEO Lynn Dugle, and Amanda Brownfield, senior vice president of Engility’s Intelligence Solutions Group, at USGIF’s GEOINT 2018 Symposium in Tampa, Fla.

“By providing three different mission areas for private sector app developers to tackle during our Grand Challenge, the IGAPP program delivered thoughtful, user-defined apps that greatly assist Department of Defense users with personnel security, operations, and situational awareness,” Brownfield said during the award presentation.

Engility’s outreach and marketing campaigns changed the game for most small app development teams. Small businesses rarely have the time or skills to legally market and sell their documents to defense and intelligence end users. IGAPP provides this supporting service through direct outreach to defense and intelligence community users as well as graphic design and advertisements paired with a robust social media presence and individual mobile app campaigns. As a result, all mobile app teams can focus on what they do best—successfully delivering viable products meeting the needs of end users.

The Sky is the Limit

Engility’s creative acquisition and delivery process isn’t just applicable to the needs realized by NGA. Yes, IGAPP was successfully adapted to NGA needs and processes, but the basic principles developed by Engility could be applied and scaled to meet any government organization’s acquisitions needs. In FY 2018, IGAPP experienced a 151% increase in GEOINT App Store active users, swelling to more than 40,000 in total. The extraordinary growth in audience size is attributable to an 80% increase in new apps delivered in FY 2018 and Engility’s proactive attendance at more than 25 outreach events at DoD installations to capture end user needs. Since 2014, Engility has distributed more than $5 million to more than 120 approved mobile app vendors—99% of which went to small businesses that might not otherwise have the capacity to do business with the federal government. 

Image courtesy of Engility

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