IDEAS | BLOG

Hacking the Feds: Forum One Among the Winners at GSA Hack-a-Thon

Our team, made up of designers and developers from Forum One, along with Booz Allen Hamilton, Avar Consulting, and IFC International, worked on a solution for IAE’s Vendor Dashboard for Contracting Officers. We were tasked with creating a vendor dashboard for displaying GSA data that would enable procurement officers to quickly and easily search and identify potential vendors that have small-business or minority-owned status, search by other special categories, and view vendors’ history.

Last Friday, we attended the Digital Innovation Hack-a-Thon hosted by the GSA… and we won. The federal tech website FCW even wrote an article about it.

How did we tackle the problem?

Our team initially split into smaller working groups. The first group performed a quick discovery session; talking with the primary stakeholder and even reaching out to some of the Contracting Officers we work with regularly. They identified pain points and looked at other systems which we ended up integrating into our solution. As this group defined requirements, the second group created wireframes. We even took some time to perform quick usability testing with our stakeholders, and iterate on our initial concept until it was time to present.

The other group dove into development. We carefully evaluated the data available from the API to understand the overlap and develop a data architecture. Using that data map, we decided to create a listing of contracts and ways to display an individual contract. We then expanded it to include alternative ways of comparing and segmenting contracts using other supporting data. Drupal did very well pulling in the data and allowed us to leverage its data listings and displays tools. Most developers see Drupal as a powerful albeit time intensive building tool, but it worked very well in this time critical environment.

Our two groups rejoined frequently to keep everyone on the same page and make sure our solutions was viable.

How much could we possibly accomplish in 6 hours?

More than you might think. Our solutions presented the content in an organized, digestible way that allowed contracting officers to search and sort through information quickly and easily within one system. We created wireframes to illustrate our solution for the judges and stakeholders. We also stood up a Drupal site to house the data and explained the technical architecture behind our solution. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a front-end developer participating in the hack-a-thon, so we weren’t able to create a user interface, but our wireframes describe what the UI should eventually look like.

Some of us even took a quick break to catch a glimpse the Arsenal of Democracy World War II Victory Capitol Flyover from the roof. It was also broadcasted on the projectors in the conference room.

What did we learn?

It’s interesting to see how others break down complex problems and iterate on solutions especially if that solution includes additional requirements. Our solution was more complex than some of the other more polished data visualizations, but we won the challenge in part because of the strategy behind our solution.

We’re excited to see what GSA develops as a MVP, and we’ll be keeping our ears open for the next opportunity to attend a hack-a-thon with GSA.

Finally, a big shout out to our teammates!

  • Mary C. J. Schwarz, Vice President at ICF International
  • Gita Pabla, Senior Digital Designer at Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Eugene Raether, IT Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Robert Barrett, Technical Architect, Avar Consulting