Blending a Distributed Transformation Team

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It is no secret that Politicians and Senior Executives in the Federal Government are Washington DC based. In the corporate world, they are equivalent to the Corporate Agency Headquarters as well as many regional offices. These HQ’s lead new policies, budget decisions, funding distribution and forming core principles and program direction for defense and civilian programs. Most Senior Executives in DOD and Civilian Agencies are based in DC. So, a common question from agencies, partners, and candidates is why would a transformation and management consulting firm providing government executives be based in Colorado?

In short, the work is not done in DC – its done in the programs. A not very well known fact is that a very large amount of those programs – especially Engineering, Earth, Energy, and Land based programs – are actually run out of Colorado. Colorado has over 53,000 Federal Government employees (Denver Post June 2011), not including federal contractors. The concentration of Federal Labs, Military Bases, Land and Science Program management, and multiple Science and operations centers are the main culprits. Specifically, for the civilian programs, Denver, has over 10,000 Federal Employees and contractors running the operations, hosting, and mission functions for those programs are in and around the Denver Federal Center. A majority of these agencies are Earth or Land Program focused. See a list of over 100 Agencies and functions.. In the commercial world, Denver also has a large presence in Communications, Satellites, Financial, and Restaurant Headquarters given its central U.S. location.

This means for example, DOE EERE in DC sets direction and budget for NREL, but the NREL program R&D National Lab is in Golden, CO performing the Solar, Wind, Biomass, Hydrogen, Geothermal, water power and other renewable studies and preparation for commercialization and technology transfer. Or USGS program headquarters are in Reston, and USGS is located around the world, but a major hub is Denver based with thousands of employees and contractors performing water quality analysis, tracking eathquakes, making geospatial data. 
We have seen two-approaches to transformation in distributed organizations: Headquarter Located Survey models, and Collaborative Blended Location Models

Headquarter Located Survey models: Data Calls

Lets use a Federal Government example. When it comes to program mission transformation or migrating programs to shared services or consolidations, the DC-based Senior Executives set the direction, from DC. DC-based consulting support in transformation for the common executive corporate functions – budget formulation, IT Policy setting, Financial Accounting, Workforce statistics and strategy development, and other more corporate commodity services. 

What gets lost though is the real mission business transformation analysis, ideation buy-in, actual migration issues, consolidation, and recommendation implementation will be in the field.

No corporation survives by “crystal tower” decision making, and thou shalt execution perfection. So, there shouldn’t be any expectation that true transformation needs to include the collaboration – not upward data-call reporting – but transformation working with the non-DC program management to construct the needs, deem the appropriate strategic or tactical improvement opportunities, identify the quality improvement, process efficiencies, lifecycle management changes from supply to enablement to use, and examine the sequence possibilities of their program, investment, system, facility, and asset portfolio.

An example pathing of this mistake is that DC-based executives will ask DC consultants to perform data calls as a way to reach out to programs as a way to collaborate. So, the unknowing consultant creates the template, it looks good – and it really does. Performs the data call (this may include a local visit or literally be a phone call) that no one likes, but needs to be done. But ultimately, the result is flawed in a few ways. Typically, the data call is presented from a corporate point of view void of the unique program mission factors that impact on programs such as: Science Data Management, Geospatial and Geography Services, Earth Observation and Remote Sensing, Natural Resource Planning, Policy, and Protection, Wildland Fire Management, National Environmental Protection Act Management, Land management, Park Management, Agricultural Study, Energy Lifecycle Management, Emergency/Hazards Management, Health Information Management, and other mission Information and Data Engineering & Research.

The DC consultant was brought in for executive corporate analysis, and does not typically have context to the program being done in the field, but does collect the information as requested. Based on that completes a very good analysis of the information provided. Provides some analysis and recommendations based on the data calls input and reception of that in DC.

THEN, the results come back, and the problems start as the saying “garbage in, garbage out” goes. And worse, the strain seen in the public eye between DC and citizens grows very akin to the strain seen between DC and non-DC management. It is widely publicized that DC is very unpopular in the public eye right now, but as well, internal management between beltway decision making and program management are at huge odds due to the same climate of having to respond to the current political climate.

Turns out the system manager who provided the information didnt have the context of the overall policy. The System architect didnt realize a certain integration point and provides several technical reasons of why that cannot work. Managers weren’t on the data call, so some core change context was missed and unfortunately misrepresented, causing consternation and delay in accepting any recommendations and requires further revision. Program executives in hearing all the consternation respond with lack of support towards the initiative fearing another change revolt.

Even though there was a powerpoint giving an overview of the effort, the call was performed flawlessly, and even a web site with some PDFs and facts providing some context, the reality is, it was in the context of the DC-based effort, it still failed. There was no account for the program context and how it is associated to localized change. The executives brought it didn’t come in through the program, so their staff didnt have the proper impetus. And, when the realization of how important it really was came about, it was too late to ask questions.

Collaborative blended location approach for providing Agency and Program Executive Analysis Design and Planning Services

Whether its a Major Data Center Consolidation initiative, move to shared services, migrating financials systems to single point solutions, executive driven efficiencies engagement, or moving up the maturity model chain for that program, a blended model for leveraging outside consultancy in this area helps address – not avoid – these issues much more complete and efficiently, and sometimes less painful.

Xentity’s approach is to engage and involve early and often the programs by working with the local presence – both in DC and in the program presence – which has typically been Denver to date. Denver is in the “Interior” and for the Department of the Interior, for instance who manages 1 in 5 acres of the United States, mostly West of the Mississippi, key DOI presence are in Albuquerque, Sioux Falls, California, Portland, Seattle, etc and similar for USDA and many of those on the list of over 100 Agencies and functions are at the bottom of this article based in Denver. DC isn’t the only place with daily political fires or lacking clear communication directions – Programs have lots of fires too. It seems odd to even say this, but the “Potomac Fever” or Headquarter myopic views tend to forget that programs are more than a robotic factory (even if they are just that). Local response to new technology acquisition governance gone awry. Rogue process or technology developments going the wrong way resulting in server down time or premature application deployment. Standard Workforce management issues causing re-swizzling of assignments. Failure in a processing batch that causes a mini-industrial engineering assessment as to the quality, mechanistic, process, or workforce failure. 

This context – this hands-on context – helps with grounding the recommendations in realities and in context almost in an ethnographic way. Rather than surveying what is happening asking the wrong people out of context, ask the people while they are in context so the right answer is gotten right away with the right perspective and next steps. As well, by being near by, as factors dance around what needs to be discovered, the local context begins to show the true issues that need to be addressed. In the end, by keeping the ideas where the problems are to how they can fit into the target approach tested and ultimately with and by DC-based, the end solution is likely to be more readily implementable, have higher accuracy, mitigate more risks, and, for what its worth, increase corporate morale as the “cheese is moved”.

An example of doing this as a lesson learned at the Department of the Interior, in the latter phases, is for a major financial business and management system consolidation driven from DC, but the DC-led effort also has an on the ground transition team training, triaging, and guiding the local migration issues. The analysis phase did not do this, and resulted in several start and stops, restarts, lawsuits, etc. The original effort considered a handful of systems, a second effort resulted in a dozen, and then a local analysis results in discovering a couple hundred interfaces. It was at this point, the DC-led team started to look at batches and phases, based on locational presence and complexity. It is still a very difficult problem transitioning one-hundred plus year old accounting processes into a modern single financial service, but the local presence in both places has resulted in later batches having increased success.

How Xentity executes the local presence blended model
Xentiy is Colorado based but with staff in both Colorado and DC amongst other client headquartered areas. All staff will be trained in our Services Catalog, transformation methods, and leadership qualities. An added advantage is our cost of living adjustment over DC headquarters is passed on through our general administration and overhead costs. This, on top of our 8(a) acquisition benefits and Commercial and GSA Schedules, and partner agreements help get started quickly as we are very accessible.
 
Headquarter Local Consulting – Our or are prime partner staff can support on-site the Senior Executives are responding to political pressures, last-minute calls for action, and advisory and supporting consultants will get pulled in for quick response. If you are not in DC, you can quickly be put out of mind as you are out of sight which in this model is a benefit, so the Denver-based staff can focus on the program management and design needs. In addition, we train our staff or select partners who are well versed in the Corporate context, jargon, lingo, portfolio, players in that agency to help accelerate ramp-up.
Program Local Consulting – Our Colorado based staff bring the actual mission subject matter expertise analysis, design, and planning skillset where it tends to be. They are trained on the earth, land, and mission subjects. They work with the programs, and as well, living in the Interior of the United States, next to Federal Lands, Recreating in National Lands, and experiencing the wonders and threads (Wildland Fire, Water, Climate) issues of the Interior tend to build an internal drive as well. This means our staff will be familiar with the
  • Metro-based Hosting, engineering, Technical, research, Service or Operation Center effiiciencies, status, portfolio current state and key influencers in various agencies, bureaus, and programs. 
  • Understand the Laboratory Portfolio of work and challenges for technology transfer and quality, yet efficient science that the Denver Metro based national and regional labs encounter
  • Trust factors and gaps between DC decision makers and Denver-based upper management. 
Xentity recommends a blended model to help with better understanding of the true program portfolio, understand the value chain as it goes through the actual centers, and also, help build the bridge of better understanding, clarity, increased context and risk mitigation between Headquarter (DC) and major Programs and Centers. This engages the Program Middle Management, Labs, Centers to be inclusive, like in any transformational leadership guide, allows the solution to be collaboratively developed to better help mitigate risks in migrations, understand the true portfolio alternatives, sequencing, and again, and building trust. 

 

Xentity chosen to help re-arch data.gov

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Xentity has been brought on as subcontractor to Phase One Consulting Group to support adding geospatial and help update some of the user discovery and supplier coordination patterns for data.gov

UPDATE 11/2011:

  • Xentity delivered architecture recommendations in early 2011
  • data.gov implemented the first phase of the architecture by retiring and initial migration of geodata.gov to geo.data.gov
  • Future phase recommendations are procurement sensitive, but project results were very exciting to see where data.gov could go.
  • What does geodata.gov mean to data.gov – Xentity Supports presenting Architecture findings at International Data Conference.

Leveraging Xentity’s 8(a) certified status for sole-source acquisition

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Follow-on article to Accessing Xentity through a Simplified Acquisition which describes the 8(a) program and the simplified acquisition vehicles. In 2010, Xentity qualified, received certification, and began participating in the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development program – commonly referred to as just 8(a). Quick summary on 8(a);

Named for Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, this program was created to help small and disadvantaged businesses with a high potential for success to compete in the marketplace. It also helps these companies gain access to federal and private procurement markets. For more information on the program and its requirements, visit 13 CFR 124 (8(a) Business Development/Small Disadvantaged Business Status Determinations) as well as the 8(a) Business Development page to learn about benefits, eligibility standards, and goals of the 8(a) Business Development Program.(http://www.sba.gov/content/8a-business-development)

For accessing Xentity services on larger tasks than $150,000,  there are larger vehicles up to $4 million for more mid-term tasks leveraging Xentity’s 8(a) certified status and accessing as a sole source acquisition. Here are some key points:

  • Xentity consulting services, products, and training can be acquired without more than a statement requesting sole source on the statement of work basis that goes into a request for proposal that requests “Recommend sole source award for Xentity Corporation, an 8(a) certified organization (CAGE #: 4Q8L9)“. 
  • These can be for contracts with task orders up to $4 million up to five years and the award cannot be protested or challenged as long as SBA determines Xentity to be eligible for the 8(a) program. 
  • Such requests can be presented as firm fixed price, time & materials or even Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) with initial task orders 
  • This can even be used again as such after the initial contract period is completed. 
  • If over the $4 million threshold, if there is not a reasonable expectation that at least two eligible and responsible 8(a) firms will submit offers at a fair market price, this can be treated still as sole source justified.
  • This process can take up to 60 days, though can sometimes be completed in one month, once the initial contact is made from the government technical point of contact with their acquisition lead. 

Summary of Steps

  • An agency can contact their acquisition office or their agency small business unit with a requirement, with an estimated value of up to $4 million, that could be awarded to an 8(a) company (non-manufacturing).
  • What needs to be put together is a basic statement of work through their normal drafting and review procedures that lists the tasks, deliverables, performance expectations, known as a Performance Work Statement (PWS).
    • What will be key, after going through a normal PWS review, the request should be annotated with – Recommend sole source award for Xentity Corporation, an 8(a) certified organization (CAGE #: 4Q8L9)
  • Thereafter, the agency acquisition lead will contact SBA with an offer letter and SBA will typically immediately return in kind an “acceptance letter” once internal work validates our active eligibility.
    • It is at that point, a RFP (request for proposal) will be issues directly to the registered Xentity point of contact.
  • Xentity will reply within one week with the technical and cost proposal(s) as requested, and in many cases, using Xentity’s GSA Schedules which further expedites the cost negotiation as rates have been pre-negotiated and already determined to be fair and reasonable.
    • If the proposed costs are not within the funding range expected, another round of negotiations may occur removing or adding scope.
  • Once accepted, a task order is issued to the SBA, and Xentity will begin working to the contracted task orders.

This is a much faster, and simple process for the government to acquire services from a pre-qualified source such as Xentity.

Federal Acquisition Regulation References

The aforementioned is based on the FAR and cites FAR 6 and FAR 19.8. The following helps capture the points cited.

As a quite important side note, Xentity actually consults, trains and advises other small and medium-sized businesses on doing business with the Federal Government, knowing the FAR, and compliant, responsible, and responsive business solutions is one of our primary services. 

For contracts up to $4M and up to 5 years, Xentity can be awarded a contract with MUCH less contracting procedural requirements than other means. This is because Xentity has “pre-competed” and has been certified as a small disadvantage busines with the potential for success, as SBA terms it. Per FAR 6.204 , Xentity, for our services, will not require additional justification to sole source

(a) To fulfill statutory requirements relating to section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, as amended by Pub. L. 100-656, contracting officers may limit competition to eligible 8(a) contractors (see Subpart 19.8).

 (b) No separate justification or determination and findings is required under this part to limit competition to eligible 8(a) contractors. (https://www.acquisition.gov/far/html/Subpart%206_2.html)

This means, the acquisition can be made a sole source with the additional FAR 6.302-5 provision citing 15 U.S.C. 637 (see Subpart 19.8

(b) Application. This authority may be used when statutes, such as the following, expressly authorize or require that acquisition be made from a specified source or through another agency:
(5) Sole source awards under the HUBZone Act of 1997—15 U.S.C. 657a (see 19.1306). (https://www.acquisition.gov/far/html/Subpart%206_3.html)

In reviewing, FAR 19.805-2(d), additional contracts, task orders can be issued after the initial period of performance:

(d) The eligibility of an 8(a) firm for a competitive 8(a) award may not be challenged or protested by another 8(a) firm or any other party as part of a solicitation or proposed contract award. Any party with information concerning the eligibility of an 8(a) firm to continue participation in the 8(a) Program may submit such information to the SBA in accordance with 13 CFR 124.517.

 There are some cases where the award can be done this way over the $4 million threshold, under the general section in FAR 19.805-1(b).

(b) Where an acquisition exceeds the competitive threshold, the SBA may accept the requirement for a sole source 8(a) award if—

(1) There is not a reasonable expectation that at least two eligible and responsible 8(a) firms will submit offers at a fair market price; []

though, (c) does state, to not abuse the threshold by splitting into two series of acquisitions to get under the $4 million threshold

(c) A proposed 8(a) requirement with an estimated value exceeding the applicable competitive threshold amount shall not be divided into several requirements for lesser amounts in order to use 8(a) sole source procedures for award to a single firm.

Much more can be reviewed under Acquisition.gov – Subpart 19.8—Contracting with the Small Business Administration (The 8(a) Program) which covers the basic steps for acquiring a certified 8(a) contracting firm for its services. 

Accessing Xentity through a Simplified Acquisition

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In 2010, Xentity qualified, received certification, and began participating in the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development program – commonly referred to as just 8(a). Quick summary on 8(a);

Named for Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, this program was created to help small and disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. It also helps these companies gain access to federal and private procurement markets. For more information on the program and its requirements, visit 13 CFR 124 (8(a) Business Development/Small Disadvantaged Business Status Determinations) as well as the 8(a) Business Development page to learn about benefits, eligibility standards, and goals of the 8(a) Business Development Program.(http://www.sba.gov/content/8a-business-development)

The following is a quick primer on one of the easiest 8(a) contract acquisition vehicles called a Simple Acquisition was is great for initial task orders or any task order under $150,000, which is the purchasing threshold. As noted in the ACQuipedia Simplified Acquisition Procedures (SAP) .

They are designed for relatively simple Government requirements, and their use is subject to designated dollar thresholds. Examples of items commonly purchased using SAP include office supplies, computer software, and groundskeeping services.

 The purpose of simplified acquisition procedures is to:

  • Reduce administrative costs;
  • Improve opportunities for small, small disadvantaged, women-owned, veteran-owned, HUBZone, and service-disabled veteran-owned small business concerns to obtain a fair proportion of Government contracts;
  • Promote efficiency and economy in contracting; and
  • Avoid unnecessary burdens for agencies and contractors.

The simplified acquisition threshold (SAT) is $150,000.

From our experiences, this vehicle works as advertised and is by far the easiest way to access Xentity on an initial task order. If your task order is over the  simplified acquisition threshold (SAT) is $150,000, but you want the work to get started, we have found this vehicle to be an excellent “bridge” vehicle to get the initial work started, while working on other longer-term vehicles.  For orders over this threshold, and up to $4 million, please review Leveraging Xentity’s 8(a) certified status .

Your contracting office is very familiar with the process, find it very simple, and as well, are usually very aware, of their requirements to meet small disadvantaged, and thus incented to work with you on such a task order request. In some cases, we have even found using this vehicle at times is even easier than adding a task order onto an existing large contract (i.e. BPA, IDIQ, GWAC), in the cases where Xentity and the prime have not worked together as many times a prime may see Xentity is a competitor versus a collaborator. 

The timing from conception to start of work can take 30 to 60 days, which in typical government acquisition terms is very fast. This is fast as Xentity is already pre-qualified as an 8(a) contractor, thus we can receive the award as a sole-source as we are already uniquely justified for acquisition as such. As well, we already have GSA-approved rates we can use in many cases which can accelerate the acquisitions office for validating fair and reasonable pricing. 

That being said, when, looking to acquire any of Xentity’s services on an initial task order for federal government work, in many cases, we recommend government agencies leverage the simplified acquisition vehicle.

How to start

If interested in Xentity consulting services, products, and training can be acquired without more than a statement requesting sole source via simplified acquisition on the statement of work basis that goes into a request for proposal that requests “Recommend sole source award for Xentity Corporation, an 8(a) certified organization (CAGE #: 4Q8L9)“.