This post first appeared on Federal News Network. Read the original article.
This is the fourth article in our series, Leading Voices in Federal Contract Management.
The contract management organization at most businesses that support the federal government might not get the headlines or the spotlight, but it is home to the data that’s typically the lifeblood for the entire business.
“Our contract system is really the front-end system for our company,” said Howard Porter, corporate director and senior vice president of contracts at CACI International. “It feeds our financial systems and other systems within the company. And it’s key for decisions that we make.”
And increasingly, it’s also critical for supporting the business’s ability to scale — whether that’s to deliver new services for existing government contracts, support the addition of new federal projects or to expand CACI’s capabilities through mergers and acquisitions, Porter said.
Ultimately, the work of the contracts organization and the company itself is supporting the government’s mission, he said. “We’re all about that. Our program managers are all about that.”
We talked with Porter about how CACI has evolved its use of technology in contract management to help it better serve that goal. Given his nearly 24 years at the company, which supplies IT services across the government but extensively in the defense and intelligence arena, Porter has seen that technology evolution up close.
From paper to data in contract management
“When I came to CACI, we had hard-copy files,” he said. “We didn’t have an automated file capability.” In fact, not long after Porter started at the company, which he joined after leaving behind a law career, CACI rolled out its first contract management repository.
From that moment on, the company has continued to push forward with centralizing contract data, integrating it with other systems across CACI, ensuring access to it and making the contract management team the gatekeepers.
Fast forward some 20 years to 2020 and Porter oversaw the deployment of the current contract management system. “It’s a very robust system, fully integrated with our sales system. It captures our key workflows, for example, our bid approval process, our conflict of interest screening, our risk assessment process,” he said. “It is truly a cradle-to-grave contract management system.”
Relying on data to drive decisions
Cross-discipline access to information is fundamental to how the business operates today. Being able to go to one place and pull information versus going to multiple systems lets CACI’s teams “It helps us identify trends and leads to better decision-making,” Porter said.
As the gatekeepers of the information, the contracts team supports both the organization and CACI’s government customers. To make sure the technology and the team can meet its internal and external clients’ needs, the contracts organization focuses on a few core must-dos. Porter shared three:
- Maintain good data hygiene: Having easy access to data is only as valuable as the data itself. Because the agencies each have their own formats and approaches to managing contracting data, vetting and checking data and then ensuring consistency for use across the company is critical, Porter said.
“There’s no substitute for good blocking and tackling, and having not only people who are able to read and discern government contracts doing that, but having a review team,” he recommended.
- Embrace technology that gives the team time back for high-level work: Increasingly, Porter’s organization relies on robotic process automation and artificial intelligence to handle repetitious processes and data ingestion.
“One example of that is structured contracts data,” he said. “When it comes in from agencies, pretty much across the board, there’s a section in the contract that lists all the Federal Acquisition Regulation clauses and, if it’s the Defense Department, the DFAR clauses that are incorporated in the contract. Extracting that information and being able to auto-populate it is a big step saver for us.”
- Assure users have up-to-date compliance and regulatory information: Technology comes into play in keeping teams across CACI informed as information about specific contracts changes, or as compliance or regulatory rules impacting a project or bid change.
“We have to consider, do we need to put a new process in place internally to make sure that that information, which is housed in our contract system, is getting disseminated to the right stakeholders?” Porter said.
A mature contract management program depends on the people too, he added.
“You really need to have — just from a contract perspective — the depth and a range of experience across different agency contracting models (because they all vary some), knowing how the agencies operate, experience across different contract types, the risks involved and then what’s needed to execute successfully.”
To read more articles in the Leading Voices in Federal Contract Management series, click here.
Attracting young people to contract management
Just as the government emphasizes the need to recruit young people to join its acquisition and procurement ranks, industry also wants to grow and mentor the next generation of contract management employees.
It’s a passion of CACI International’s Howard Porter. “There’s a real premium on finding talented people and being able to reinvigorate the workforce,” he said.
Generally, he finds that few people know about contract management as a career option, particularly college students. To change that, CACI hosts a summer internship program and actively takes part in college career events and job fairs.
Often the interns have little idea of the central role the contracts team plays in the success of the overall business, Porter said. “They see that we’re doing a lot in terms of being business advisors too and how we’re engaging with our customers. We will take them to customer meetings. We’ll take them to our proposal reviews, where they’re in there with the sector leadership, the key finance people, so they’re seeing the level of engagement that goes on.”