NEW REPORT: The State of CLM and AI-Powered Contract Intelligence

How Contract Intelligence Will Transform Federal Acquisition in 2021

By Mike Cook

As we look forward to 2021, it’s remarkable to think about how much has changed in the last year. The global pandemic has completely upended how we work, with remote access and cloud solutions now a must-have to operate effectively. And it’s clear that many changes the pandemic spurred will be with us long-term as we all adjust to the new normal.

This is especially true for the federal government. What started in 2020 as positive momentum toward cloud technology and SaaS solutions has become a full-on sprint to digitally transform.

In the immediate term, cloud technology will empower federal agencies to stay agile and effective even when their workforce cannot be in the office. But this is really just scratching the surface of the tremendous benefits that will come as these agencies begin to fully leverage today’s SaaS solutions.

No matter where you look, federal IT and acquisition leaders are bullish on what functionality like robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) will mean for their ability to deliver value to taxpayers.

For acquisition, the excitement is especially pronounced around contracts and, more importantly, contract intelligence.

Contracts are the foundation of every relationship between agencies and their suppliers and have long been seen as a potential source of efficiencies if digitized. For years, digital contracting solutions have offered process improvements for things like template management and workflow.

Now, leading cloud technology is pushing beyond document management tasks and into the realm of contract intelligence—which means mining the data within a large body of contracts, structuring and connecting that data to the systems it touches, and providing continuous and high-impact insights for real-time decision support.

Here are three areas I see contract intelligence delivering excellence for the federal government in 2021:

Automation will allow more focus on high-value tasks

In 2020, agency pilots saw real results in redirecting thousands of acquisition work hours to higher-value, more strategic contract writing activities with the help of RPA and AI. In 2021, we will see much broader adoption of these emerging technologies. Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Dr. Michael Wooten recently commented at the ACT-IAC Acquisition Excellence conference: “As process automation tools take on program decisions, they free people to make non-program decisions. They free people to exercise critical thinking and professional judgment. They empower people to create solutions.”

From a contracting perspective, the increased focus on intelligent automation will be critical in continuing to drive toward more frictionless acquisition management and transform how the government buys goods and services by reducing time spent on routine contracting tasks and surfacing strategic opportunities for improvements.

We’ll see an evolution from open data to open ecosystems

The focus on open data and increasing spend transparency continues, as evidenced by the President’s Management Agenda priority functional area, “Improving Outcomes through Federal IT Spending Transparency.” Building on this foundation, we will see a continued shift toward best-of-breed solutions to meet the specific requirements of the acquisition workforce. Gone are the days of "good enough"—end-users expect the best solution based on their job role and responsibilities. Solutions with advanced integration capabilities, standard adapters and open architecture will continue to create more of a plug-and-play ecosystem. This will allow government agencies to continue to accelerate the retirement of outdated legacy systems in favor of best-in-class software that works together.

The past will inform the present (thanks to futuristic technology)

2021 will be the year we’ll see federal agencies apply powerful AI and blockchain technology to analyze past contracts at scale so they can make better decisions for future contracts. For example, as agencies evolve their acquisition and category management strategies, they will be able to analyze 15 years of historic contracts in those categories to see pricing trends, vendor performance, and other insights that will help them set a course for greater success. The Department of Health and Human Services has already piloted the concept with a homegrown system that uses AI and blockchain. 2021 will see the concept go mainstream, with agencies turning to SaaS contract intelligence platforms to deliver out-of-the-box solutions they don’t have to develop in house.

As digital transformation continues to accelerate across the federal government, agencies should think aggressively about how cloud technology can help them not just manage contracts better, but improve performance in ways they never imagined.

To learn how Icertis delivers excellence through contract intelligence for federal agencies, visit our Icertis Contract Intelligence for Federal solution page.

Mike Cook leads Icertis' Public Sector organization, focusing on its federal, state, and local customers. A veteran in the public sector, Mike has more than 15 years of experience in government procurement, with a focus on helping government organizations accelerate their digital modernization efforts.