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Improve Adoption of Government Acquisition Systems with a Great UI

Ben Allen, Vice President, Public Sector Solutions
January 10, 2024

At most federal government agencies, acquisition teams are understaffed and overworked. They have open positions that they can’t seem to fill. And their acquisition “systems” aren’t helping matters. 

Rather than working with one integrated government acquisition system, many agencies rely on separate applications that each perform one function. And the applications don’t communicate with each other or integrate with the financial system.

The result? Many paper-based processes, a reliance on email communication, and time-consuming manual tasks such as finding the right contract clauses and acquisition policies—leading to a lengthy procurement cycle and suboptimal contracts. No wonder they’re overworked.

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The government acquisition community is frustrated by their cumbersome, outdated software. They also bemoan a lack of training—a red flag if there ever was one. The apps people use in their daily lives don't require instructions because they’re intuitive and easy to use. The difficulty acquisition professionals face in navigating government acquisition systems without continuous training and guidance indicates a lack of user-friendly design.

“The use of a more modern interface is critical,” stated Gail Guseman, Specialist Leader, Deloitte, in a recent interview on the future of government procurement available in our Government Acquisition Outlook eBook. “One of the things I was most impressed with when I first worked with Appian acquisition solutions was how quick the training exercise was. It wasn't hard for folks to get up to speed quickly, whether they were new contracting folks who had just entered the workforce or even the more experienced ones using a new tool for the first time.”

Top 10 UI flaws in government acquisition systems.

Improving the user interface (UI) of government acquisition systems can enhance their adoption and effectiveness. Some common UI flaws in procurement systems today include:

  1. Complex navigation. Many systems have intricate menus and submenus, requiring too many clicks and making it challenging for users to find what they need quickly.
  2. Lack of intuitive design. Users often struggle to perform basic tasks due to non-intuitive layouts or unclear instructions.
  3. Inefficient workflow processes. Systems that don't support streamlined, automated workflows between all stakeholders (including policy, legal, program office, procurement office, SBA advocate, contractors, and so on) reduces transparency and increases the time and effort required for users to complete tasks.
  4. Limited customization capabilities. Users may require different views or settings based on their roles or preferences, and different agencies may require unique workflows. Systems with limited customization options can impede productivity.
  5. Outdated graphics and design. Some systems may have outdated visuals or rely on older design paradigms, making them appear obsolete compared to modern software.
  6. Inadequate search functionality. Users may find it difficult to search for specific items, documents, or information within the system due to a lack of advanced search features or poorly implemented search algorithms.
  7. Inconsistent terminology. Inconsistent use of terms or jargon unfamiliar to users can lead to confusion and errors.
  8. Poor error handling. Inadequate error messages or confusing prompts can frustrate users and lead to mistakes
  9. Lack of auditability. It is challenging to track modifications to acquisition records, identify responsible parties, or understand the rationale for decisions such as vendor selection
  10.  Insufficient mobile optimization. As more users access systems via mobile devices, a lack of responsive design can hinder usability on smaller screens.

Addressing these UI flaws and focusing on user-centered design principles can significantly improve the user experience and encourage broader adoption of government acquisition systems.

A great UI is important for recruitment.

Federal government agencies are having difficulty recruiting and retaining a younger acquisition workforce. (Remember all those open positions we mentioned above?) 

A government acquisition system that has a user-friendly interface will go a long way in attracting and retaining younger workers who are tech-savvy and accustomed to seamless digital experiences. Younger workers value user-friendly interfaces that enhance productivity and reduce frustration. 

In today's digital age, an intuitive and modern UI not only boosts efficiency but also reflects an organization's commitment to innovation and employee well-being.

Beyond a great UI: Manage change to ensure widespread adoption.

According to Guseman, “stakeholders shouldn’t be surprised by change. Communications and change management elements are critical to a successful project rollout.”

Users cling to the familiar, even if it’s flawed. Since they know how to work with their current acquisition process, however cumbersome, they may resist migrating to a new one despite its advantages. 

To ensure adoption of a new acquisition system, involve all stakeholders at the design and development stage. Be sure to explain the solution in terms they’ll understand, not from a technical or implementation point of view. You have to know the stakeholder group to bring them in at the right time, when they’ll see the value of it, but not too late that they won’t have a say in the direction. Listen to their feedback in pilots and user acceptance testing. They will feel responsible for how the system is being developed and will champion it to others in the organization. 

You can expedite the onboarding process by prioritizing key elements like data migrations and integrations on your roadmap to offer a unified, seamless user experience, as opposed to introducing yet another standalone solution to their workflow.

“A method we have found that works well is to quickly prototype and iterate. That’s an advantage of building the government acquisition system on an agile, low-code development platform because it gives you that flexibility,” explained Guseman. Introducing functionality to users early significantly boosts application adoption. Gathering immediate feedback allows for prompt adjustments and continuous improvement. It would be far more cumbersome and problematic for all involved to wait a year to discover missing features.

Read the full interview with Deloitte and other industry experts in the eBook, Government Acquisition Outlook: Experts Weigh In on the Future of Procurement.