Acquisition in the Digital Age (AiDA™): A Game Changer in Federal Acquisition

Author: Amanda L. Andrei

Federal acquisition is easy and straightforward, said no one ever.

Rules, regulations, policies, procedures, definitions, requirements, contracts, forms—constantly updated and interpreted; contained in static PDF files, guides, references; scattered across the Internet, intranets, and libraries, and used by a 200,000+ acquisition workforce at various stages in their careers and experience. Complexity, anyone?

But wait—with the introduction of Acquisition in the Digital Age (AiDA™), a platform to share MITRE’s acquisition knowledge and a prototype to demonstrate the art of the possible, maybe we’ll start hearing, Federal acquisition is easier and more straightforward.

Bringing Together Resources

At its core, AiDA simplifies and modernizes the federal acquisition model by sharing Agile practices and broader acquisition knowledge. As Pete Modigliani, Senior Defense Capability Accelerator, notes, “Agile means many things to many people, and most people know they ‘have to do that Agile stuff’ but many don’t know how.”

Though the term Agile has been used in the commercial world for over twenty years, only in the past few years has it been adopted by the federal government, particularly in the DoD. And it isn’t just about tools, technologies, or techniques, as Modigliani emphasizes, “The biggest challenge is a fundamental change in cultural and core processes.” In other words, AiDA seeks to change the very behaviors and norms in the federal acquisition community by empowering and inspiring the community with a faster, more efficient way of doing business.

The platform pulls together various resources—now digitized to be more interactive—as well as sample contract language, curated references, and even YouTube videos for quick training. Professionals can review the process from different angles, such as by functional area or by acquisition phase, using MITRE’s tailored acquisition model for software development. Links to the latest policies, guides, reports, research news, templates, memos, and more are provided.

“What we’ve done is taken all of this confusing and heavy information and broken it down into manageable chunks that make sense to different parts of different organizations,” explains Rebecca Plante, lead developer for the AiDA website. “It’s like a one-stop shop, so anyone—no matter where they are in the acquisition process—can find what they need much more easily.”

Navigating with Ease

Su Chang, Cross-cutting Urgent Information Cell (CUIC) operations lead and acquisitions expert, notes that one aspect of AiDA that they felt was crucial to be effective was its interface: “One thing we said was absolutely fundamental to making this platform different was making a site that is attractive, interactive, and easy to navigate.”

It’s no surprise that the process of creating a tool for Agile acquisitions was Agile in and of itself. The AiDA team received approval to use WordPress, a blogging platform that they found scalable and extensible, especially if they felt they needed to make major changes to the site. The team also used three rounds of focus groups and user testing to get feedback on the website as it was built.

“Many times people will wait until they are done to do any testing,” says Plante, “and changes like that can break a site. The team’s desire to do this user testing frequently throughout the process was a gamechanger for us.” And as Chang adds, “It dramatically changed the navigation and was a great lesson learned to really use the input you get from users themselves so you can continuously improve.”

Partnering for Success

In developing AiDA, MITRE worked both across and beyond the company, reaching out to Agile experts, acquisition specialists, IT/web media experts, as well as OSD/AT&L (Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) and the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). AiDA has been integrated into the DAU’s tool suite and will be the foundation of its new Agile curriculum. MITRE is currently helping Congress and DoD executives to implement new acquisition models and rethink program office operations. For these reasons, MITRE honored AiDA with both a 2018 Program Recognition Award and a Knowledge Advantage Award, commending the team for the reach of their partnerships and collaboration “to develop a production-ready decision support capability that gives the acquisition community a Knowledge Advantage.”

And most recently at the Igniting Innovation conference hosted by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC), AiDA was selected out of over 150 government and industry submissions as the winner of the Game Changer Award. The award recognizes an initiative that is a disruptive innovation that creates a new market, significantly impacts an existing one, or results in a major breakthrough on a longstanding problem. The team hosted a booth at the conference, demoing their work to over 500 attendees from government and industry.

The team is honored by the award and grateful that is raises the visibility of the platform. “Most importantly, we’re glad we know it’s being used,” remarks Chang. “We get contacted on it frequently and people are really resonating with the information.”

The AiDA team

  • Jim Billings
  • Adam Bouffard
  • Su Chang
  • Deb Ercolini
  • Karen Carten
  • Corey McRae
  • Pete Modigliani
  • Colleen Murphy
  • Rebecca Plante
  • Don Whittemore

AiDA in the news

New platform tries to bring some normalcy to the agile craze, Federal News Radio, June 2017
New Tool to Assist Acquisition Workforce, National Defense Magazine, June 2017
MITRE demoing new ‘Google Maps’ for federal acquisition, Federal Times, March 2017
Developing the “Google Maps” of Federal Acquisition, MITRE, March 2017

Amanda Andrei is a computational social scientist in the Department of Cognitive Sciences and Artificial Intelligence. She specializes in social media analysis, designing innovative spaces, and writing articles on cool subjects.

See also: 

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Data Science Practitioners

Technical Challenges in Data Science

Defining, Applying, and Coordinating Data Science at MITRE

Rising to the Challenge: Countering Unauthorized Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Mistakes and Transcendent Paradoxes: Dr. Peter Senge Talks on Cultivating Learning Organizations

MITRE Hackathon Examines Impact of Emerging Mobile Technologies

Digital Notebooks for Emergency First Responders

Managing Knowledge Through Systems Visioneering

© 2018 The MITRE Corporation. All rights reserved. Approved for public release.  Distribution unlimited. Case number 18-2131

Solving problems for a safer world. The MITRE Corporation is a not-for-profit organization that operates research and developmentcenters sponsored by the federal government. Learn more about MITRE.

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