Could solutions used to fight Ebola be a new model for procurement?

Commentary By Doug Burr
Director of Sales and Business Development
Qore Performance

As a small business, finding the proper channels and appropriate contacts to partner with the federal government can be exhausting, and often fruitless no matter your effort or intentions. Amongst tedious filing proceedings, drawn out acquisition bid processes, and archaic regulations and guidelines for submittal are thousands of companies hoping to make a positive impact but lost in the minutia. How can we change this?

Recently, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy created the Ebola Grand Challenge, an effort to expedite this process and draw out solutions from the public in a streamlined, collaborative way.

Through the online idea-sharing platform, OpenIdeo, physicists, mathematicians, inventors, doctors and everyday “Joes” submitted ideas and research to assist aid workers battling this deadly virus. Research and ideas were presented, evaluated, dissected, and often times, combined in an amazing show of collaboration.

Could this be the future of federal acquisitions?

Unencumbered by the typical restrictions, competition and award protests, people and companies from all over the world have flocked to the forum to bring thoughts together to solve problems. Even companies that would seemingly have competing products for the grants can be seen collaborating on ideas about how to combine technologies to better solve major issues hampering the treatment of Ebola patients.

Other federal agencies may want to take note of the process shown here, as it has proven to be an interesting place for mining innovative ideas and drawing out non- traditional participants. While Ebola response has become the “hot topic,” many of the ideas and solutions discussed on the forum have real-world federal government impact available today. While this platform has allowed participants to present ideas meant to solve this particular issue, government organizations and contractors should peek in for solutions to some of their current challenges, as many routinely are faced with austere conditions and are unprepared or uneducated about what they will face while on location. With additional non-combat deployments into these harsh climates happening every day, this kind of idea repository can result in expedited vetting and evaluation of the solution space.

The scope and range of the suggestions and the new applications of these ideas is what has made this forum so appealing.

Companies are applying their products and ideas in a way previously not considered. Qore Performance, a Fairfax, Virginia-based company, submitted our new-to-market athletic apparel with arterial cooling pockets. Originally designed for athletes and law enforcement personnel for in-game or on-duty use, HAZMAT suit cooling and patient care was not the original design for the products, but this platform has put us on the radar for a number of government and private-sector organizations whose workers wear protective gear daily.

With no experience in providing solutions to the federal government, companies such as Qore Performance would have previously depended on third-party relationship managers to bring their products into the federal government and navigate the complexities of the General Services Administration’s schedule contracts. Most are “flying blind,” lacking the resources or connections to present their solutions in front of the proper set of eyes.

Open Innovation forums such as OpenIdeo may change this.

Federal acquisitions could greatly benefit from a place where questions can be posed to the general public, and solutions can be discussed, adapted, vetted and ultimately presented for implementation with less overhead and process-driven requirements. With the vetting that has already organically occurred on this open platform, I’d be willing to guess you will see quite a few of the ideas from this OpenIdeo forum and USAID Grand Ebola Challenge in government organizations much sooner than expected.

Doug Burr is the director of sales and business development for Qore Performance.

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