Insight by NCMA

‘Not your granddaddy’s conference’ – NCMA features VR, video games, immersive experiences in 2021 contracting conference

This content is sponsored by NCMA.

Plenty of guidance has been issued, especially in the past few months, telling federal IT and cybersecurity personnel how to begin responding to major concerns like supply chain cyberattacks, ransomware, phishing and the like. Similarly, federal agencies involved in disaster response have plans in place – and in some cases, in action – around dealing with extreme weather events as a result of climate change, COVID-19, and other natural disasters. But these major challenges also affect the federal contracting community, and it’s less clear what they can do to respond to and mitigate their effects.

That’s why the National Contract Management Association will be taking on “The Urgent Future” at its upcoming Government Contract Management Symposium, December 2-3 in Washington.

“Pretty clearly cyber has had a very, very significant effect on the contracting professionals, both in government and industry,” said Anne Laurent, director of professional practice and innovation at NCMA. “For example, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification has taken up a tremendous amount of attention, because it’s requiring both sides to begin to understand how to not harden, but to change the way that our IT enterprise across government is secured. And it’s entering a lot of new requirements for industry in order to meet those things. Those are all requirements that the contracting side of the house has to not only understand but has to ensure that are enforced. The bottom line is that the contracting side of the house has to be prepared to understand CMMC and to ensure that when contractors are bidding, they’re bidding on things that are cyber mature enough to actually to actually carry out.”

Much like developers, cybersecurity specialists and disaster response personnel have to increase the speed at which they can respond to demand and emergencies, contracting specialists also need to be able to increase their ability to respond to demand for new capabilities at speed. Governments clash primarily in the cyber and economic worlds, and at the intersection of those, everyone is learning that the supply chain is easily weaponized.

Concerns that the contracting system is too slow and not agile enough have been around for decades, but they’re rapidly reaching a pinnacle. That’s why NCMA is borrowing a military motto – “train like you fight” – for its 2021 conference. It’s going to focus on how the contracting community can equip itself to be experienced in moving with agility, and responding with both alacrity and smarts.

It’s also taking on a new approach to the format of the conference itself, in a nod to the pandemic and the new dynamic of remotely attending such conferences.

“We still believe that attending in person is vital. And we would really advise people to do it that way,” Laurent said. “But because some people cannot, we have gone to a new hybrid approach, providing attendees the option of attending in person or online. And we do our very, very best to ensure both experiences are equally fabulous.”

Part of that hybrid experience is the digital platform, which takes the form of a virtual exposition hall. Avatars will move around through the virtual space, with screens showing video. People will be able to choose which sessions they want to attend and run that in those screens.

“This year, we’re going to actually have a space where these presenters of innovation alley presentations are going to be co-located in what’s called an innovation wing,” Laurent said. “We’re going to have what I think is probably the very first first-person-shooter contracting video game exhibiting in the wing, and we’re going to also have the IRS’s project where they are acquiring an augmented reality solution for filling out tax forms and other IRS forms where you can do it on your cell phone, and as you’re filling something out, the idea is that augmented reality will immediately supply background information for you next to that.”

There will also be an immersive experience, both for in-person and digital attendees, called 2025: The Future is Here. People will be divided into teams, provided with roles, and given a scenario that they have to respond to. That scenario will be a near-future projection, which Laurent compared to the novels of Peter Singer, and additional challenges will arise over the course of the experience that attendees will have to incorporate into their responses.

“We jammed so much information, so many new experiences, so many top notch speakers into our conferences, that it’s really very impressive, but this one is kind of over the top,” Laurent said. “It’s not your granddaddy’s conference.”

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