Meeting the Imperative of Innovation: REI Advances DoD’s Small Business Engagement

Background:

The military counts on the ingenuity of small businesses, which provide essential technologies, software, tools, and weaponry crucial for maintaining superiority in defense. Facilitating this symbiotic relationship is the small business research and innovation portal managed out of the research and engineering office. Through the portal, small businesses gain access to contracts and resources that enhance their collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD), fostering the innovation vital for military strength.

Recognizing the imperative to modernize the portal, the office that manages it has unveiled a streamlined, web-based platform. This platform empowers small businesses to present their ideas effectively while enabling the DoD to identify and fund the most promising projects. The prior system struggled to accommodate the needs of over 65,000 small business users and 15 DoD components, including the Army, Navy, and Air Force, resulting in frequent downtime and frustration that hindered the small business research and innovation programs.

Recognizing the essential role of small businesses in advancing defense capabilities, both DoD and Congress actively encourage a diverse range of enterprises across the nation to contribute their innovative concepts. Annually, DoD allocates over $1 billion through the programs. Formerly, the process was convoluted and repetitive, with various DoD components independently seeking innovation.

The revitalized portal, with its user-friendly interface, microservices architecture, and cloud-based infrastructure, addresses these challenges. By facilitating easier collaboration among 15 key components, it eliminates duplicated efforts and simplifies the journey to securing funding and forging partnerships.

Challenge:

In the realm of defense innovation, the Department of Defense (DoD) components, backed by Congressional support, are eager to harness the small business research and innovation programs to enhance their warfighting capabilities. This enthusiasm, while commendable, often led to unintended consequences such as overlapping efforts, escalated costs, and a labyrinth of confusion for small businesses attempting to engage.

The office that manages the program confronted its own set of obstacles with the portal. Challenges encompassed infrastructure limitations, networking complexities, real-time monitoring requirements, and the imperative to scale the portal for increased user capacity. Initially housed onsite, the portal struggled to meet user demands. An initial attempt to migrate to the cloud proved unsuccessful, resulting in inconsistency and unreliability.

A breakthrough came with the introduction of a new cloud solution, spurring another shift that demanded a full portal upgrade.

This time, the office partnered with REI Systems, leveraging our experience with similar projects and successes with agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). REI Systems was entrusted with the portal upgrade, plus the management of infrastructure, networking, and the web application, resulting in a more reliable, secure, and accessible platform.

The application process was once fraught with complexity and redundancy as different DoD components pursued innovation in isolation. The portal’s new design tackles this challenge head-on with its intuitive user interface, microservices architecture, and cloud-based framework. It simplifies the application process, cutting out duplication and making it easier for 15 components, to find and support innovative ideas more efficiently.

Approach:

Digging deeper into REI’s work on the portal sheds light on the innovative and strategic depth that went into the project. We did more than just offer technical solutions; we completely transformed how the office taps into technology to boost efficiency and impact, making it easier for small businesses to contribute to defense innovation.

Agile Development and DevSecOps

REI’s agile development approach was key. We tackled the project in bite-sized pieces, weaving in iterative feedback loops to keep every step-in sync with what users needed and the office’s goals. This agile method brought a level of flexibility and adaptability, making it easy to tweak things along the way based on real-world feedback and testing.

Integrating DevSecOps practices into the development process was another innovative step. By making security a priority from the start, REI ensured the portal was not only robust and reliable but also met the stringent security standards required by the office’s FedRAMP IL4 Cloud Infrastructure. This early focus on security cut down on potential risks and vulnerabilities significantly.

Cloud Migration and Optimization

Moving the portal to a cloud-based infrastructure was a major undertaking that showcased our expertise in cloud technologies. Selecting Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the platform, REI deployed a suite of services including EC2 for computing power, S3 for storage, ALB for load balancing, and RDS for database management. This shift made the system more scalable and reliable, and it improved the portal’s capacity to meet the evolving demands of small businesses and DoD components.

User-Centric Design and Microservices Architecture

Understanding how vital user experience is, REI employed a user-first design strategy, getting input from actual users via focus groups and feedback loops. This made sure the portal was easy to use and get around in, breaking down hurdles for both small business users and DoD staff. Opting for a microservices architecture was a key decision that allowed for greater flexibility and scalability. By breaking the system into smaller, independently deployable services, we streamlined updates and maintenance, setting the stage for the portal to grow and shift as needed.

Continuous Improvement and Innovation

REI didn’t stop at deployment; we committed to continuous improvement and innovation. We used automated testing and updates through a CI/CD pipeline, making it easier to add new features and fixes without causing downtime.

We also added auto-scaling and load balancing, so the portal can automatically handle different levels of use, staying efficient during busy times and saving resources when it’s quieter.

Impact:

REI’s portal overhaul significantly improved its reliability, ease of use, and security. We did more than just meet the office’s immediate needs; we set the stage for future innovations and stronger partnerships between DoD and small businesses.

Improvements:

Innovation: Thanks to a more user-friendly system, small businesses are bringing 20% more new ideas without extra burden on staff or resources.

Accessibility & Reliability: The previous system’s frequent downtimes are history. With REI’s upgrades, the portal boasts over 99.9% uptime, improving trust and satisfaction among users.

Accountability: The office is now consistently meeting its reporting obligations, thanks to streamlined processes.

Security: Moving the application to a secure, government-managed cloud setup under REI’s guidance drastically cut security risks and unauthorized data exposure, increasing confidence across the board.

Cost Efficiency: Expertise in cloud architecture and strategic advice from REI slashed the portal’s AWS costs by 30%.

Efficiency: The new system allows small businesses to pitch their innovations effortlessly and quickly.

Who Benefits from DSIP?

  • Small businesses looking to get DoD funding for their innovations.
  • American workers getting more jobs and economic benefits from growing small businesses.
  • Warfighters using better equipment, making their jobs safer and more satisfying.
  • DoD tapping into a bigger pool of fresh ideas, working smarter as a result.
  • Taxpayers enjoying smarter use of their money with clearer, more efficient defense spending.

Achievements So Far:

  • A 10% jump in innovative proposals from small businesses.

  • A 20% increase in new small business applicants, showing the process is easier to navigate.

  • A 52% reduction in yearly support requests from these applicants, thanks to a more user-friendly design and updated technology.

Operational Adaptability:

  • Better data quality, customization, and control for 15 DoD components.

  • A 10% uptick in application submissions.

  • Data normalization across systems for consistent measurement and reporting.

  • Integration of mandated Congressional policies to the DSIP application.

Data Security and Performance:

  • Reached 99.9% uptime for the system.

  • Rolled out strong data encryption and backups.

  • Boosted security with solid password rules, multi-factor authentication, Common Access Card (CAC), and intrusion detection measures.

Impact on Oversight and Reporting:

  • Full support for key reporting functions to SBA, DoD leadership, Office of Management and Budget, and Congress.

  • An 80% faster turnaround in reports to Congress, meeting deadlines once out of reach.

REI demonstrated how creative problem-solving and applying technology strategically can transform government initiatives and boost national defense. Our work on the DSIP has helped the DoD meet its imperative of innovation by engaging small businesses at key moments. This effort has led to job creation and economic growth, while boosting the nation’s defense—a win-win outcome.

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