By: Moe Goswami, CEO and Michael Eidelkind, Director of Programs, AINS
This article is part of a series on solution areas for the eCase digital process automation platform and was originally published on LinkedIn. You can read the original article here.
As government agencies undergo IT transformation, sometimes it seems that contract offices have been left behind. Government procurement offices are required to comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which includes maintaining official contract files. Yet so many offices still rely on legacy contract writing systems, rudimentary internally built document filing systems, or paper-based printing and filing, with checklists as a hastily created tool to achieve compliance. It’s time government agencies invest the resources in bringing contract lifecycle management (CLM) up-to-date through the implementation of automated, low-code tools.
As required by the FAR and agency mandates, government procurement offices must maintain auditable, repeatable, defendable, and legally enforceable contract files. According to FAR 4.802 regulation, a contract file must generally consist of 1) “the contracting office contract file, that documents the basis for the acquisition and the award,” 2) “the contract administration office contract file, that documents actions reflecting . . . contract administration responsibilities;” and 3) “the paying office contract file.” In order to ensure compliance with these standards, procurement officials must follow and track specific workflows. Complying with FAR 4.803, the contents of contract files, is best accomplished by standardizing filing structures across the agency.
When agencies rely on paper filing and legacy systems to write, track, and maintain their contract files—as they often do now—ensuring compliance with the FAR becomes a constantly unmitigated problem. Historically, contracts have been stored in dedicated rooms within contracting offices—wasting valuable real estate and not protecting contracts from natural disaster, fire, and human error. Through SharePoint and a Contract Writing System, contract offices have attempted to digitize the CLM process, but such systems are rigid and don’t ensure compliance with federal requirements. Nor do they offer the standardization or process efficiency that should be achieved when storing files electronically. Oftentimes procurement offices utilizing these systems still rely on paper filing and checklists and require their contract specialists to create each file manually, but a low-code solution can ensure compliance at every step of the CLM process.
There are multiple benefits to the architecture of a COTS, out-of-the-box CLM solution that can address the specific business requirements of federal procurement offices. For one thing, a CLM solution can satisfy the complex requirements of the FAR and other agency regulations, through a well-organized and configurable filing structure and secure role-based permissions. The solution can provide automated integration with third-party software such as BetaSAM, FPDS-NG, CPARS, FAPIIS, and other financial and supply management systems.
Our CLM solution, eCase Contracts, is uniquely centered around the contract file, with configurable dashboards, workflow, and templates to support required document creation beyond just requisitions, solicitations, and contracts and professional external communication via integrated email. eCase Contracts also offers tracking of important metrics including Procurement Administrative Lead Time (PALT) to help contracting officers meet deadlines and heads of contracting activities to meet their organizational goals. Because contract file structures are standardized by procurement instrument type, management can easily review files and ensure organizational compliance quality assurance. And with the contract file in one place, legal representatives can access the file for legal reviews within context.
eCase Contracts can quickly change to meet new business requirements as the FAR and other federal regulations change. Through eCase Contracts, we are able to create unique fields and other configurations to accommodate differences between agencies and organizations, and also enable new administrators and business process owners to take charge of application maintenance without the need for specialized developers. eCase Contracts also addresses many of the challenges procurement offices face such as 1) task management and tracking; 2) allowing for the easy transition of files, documents, and contractual information between contract specialists; 3) ensuring the completion and correct filing of contract documents; and 4) streamlining procurement processes across the organization.
Imagine bringing together project teams and CORs with contracting officers and specialists to work collaboratively to create the myriad of documents needed to be allowed to send out a solicitation. Imagine sending the solicitation out without leaving the application, or posting it and receiving responses on a portal to then jointly evaluate with the source selection team. When the contract is awarded, the contract file merely transitions to the officer in charge to administer and is then efficiently received by closeout teams upon completion. Access to files is set by roles, phases, and organizational compartmentalization to ensure everyone sees what they are legally permitted to see, while promoting transparency in the process.
We have demonstrated an ability to transform government agencies, mitigating the “risk of failures” that comes from reliance on legacy systems and leveraging the iterative improvements, features, and functions of newer technologies to extend the functionality of the platform beyond the traditional five-year period of performance. Other CLM systems have limitations to the business needs they support, such as software focused specifically on the creation of contract documents. Through eCase Contracts, agencies can automate the CLM process while also meeting FAR requirements, either independently or through APIs and integrations. Additionally, as a service provider, our contracting subject matter experts offer change management services and tailor training to our customers to support the standup, transition, and sustainment mission needs.
At the start of the pandemic, we saw first-hand the difficulties that procurement offices reliant on legacy systems and paper records and legacy systems faced. Remote work has proliferated the necessity for the digital automation of CLM, as without access to printing or a robust electronic CLM system, procurement offices are facing a growing backlog of auditable contracts which in turn can become a major compliance issue. With low-code on the rise, and many government agencies now focused on digital transformation in various process areas, it’s time to bring procurement into the fold.