The strategy behind NITAAC's new CMMI Level 2 rating

When managing a $20 billion multiple-year governmentwide acquisition contract GWAC ​involving 75+ vendors, thousands of original equipment manufacturers OEMs​, and thousands of buying entities, processes become very important. When you are managing three GWACs worth $60 billion of public funds, processes become critical for those managing the contracts, those selling from the contracts, and those buying from the contracts.

At the National Institutes of Health’s Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC), we decided to make a strategic investment in our processes. We felt we had a good handle on what we were doing, but we knew to develop complete confidence in the processes and perhaps fine-tune them along the way, we felt a third-party assessment of our program was necessary.

After a review of the available processes, we selected the Carnegie Mellon University Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) process.

Some may recall that the CMMI process was developed by a group of experts from industry, government, and the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at CMU and that the first customer for the CMMI process was the US ​Defense Department. DoD initially used CMMI for the acquisition of high-level software developed specifically for them.

NITAAC GWACs have been available since the late 1990​s. While we have strived for excellence with each of our GWACs, we always knew there was some room for improvement. Each incremental process improvement meant better a result for all of our stakeholders.

The process took us over two years, and was akin to going through an MRI, then having a series of experts looking at every aspect or program as if they were doctors looking at each organ scanned by the MRI, a true top to bottom, inside out assessment of absolutely everything we do.

Each contract was dissected, and every employee on each vehicle interviewed and re-interviewed. Processes were put under the microscope, analyzed and re-analyzed.

We wanted to ascertain for ourselves, and the community we serve, that we are a quality driven organization dedicated to customer service excellence—from that first incoming inquiry through the acquisition process to contracts award.

With the CMMI Level 2 Rating, we have demonstrated to our community—buyers and suppliers—that we have built an infrastructure in our program, replete with process improvement procedures and analysis of repetitive processes that clearly shows a level of excellence in what we do.

This is not an exercise for the timid.

However, the results are palpable and real. With processes fine-tuned to near perfection, we were are able to confidently discuss with any federal agency our ability to deliver the products and services they require.

When an agency needs to re-vamp the way they acquire IT to better conform to FITARA requirements, our teams point to our solutions with complete confidence.

Inviting an outside assessment team into your organization to look for anything and everything that you do is not a situation most would choose. We went into this process willingly, with our eyes open and hoping to learn and improve.

The processes instituted through CMMI improve the agile acquisition of information technology. Coupled with our robust electronic government ordering EGOS ​system, which allows our customers to see what they bought, who they bought it from, when they bought it and what they paid, we have complete confidence that contracting offices from any and every federal agency will get the best possible IT solution for each and every need they have.

Our goal is nothing less than friction-free IT acquisition.

Robert Coen is the director of National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition Center and sets the strategic vision for its governmentwide acquisition program. 

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