Commercial Solutions Opening - More Than You Think!
Hopefully your imagination is now slightly engaged and perhaps even a tiny smile has appeared on your face. That imaginative open mind is exactly what you need to best understand the Commercial Solutions Opening principles and the best way to utilize it for your acquisitions.
A “CSO” is simply a competition method – another tool in the ‘ole Defense Acquisition System toolbox. It can be conducted under the Federal Acquisition Regulation system via DFARS Subpart 212.2 or the competition principle behind the CSO can be applied to a non-procurement effort such as an Other Transaction. In my experience people have a hard time separating the CSO competition method from the regulations above it.
So what is this so-called competition method? Well, similar to a Broad Agency Announcement, a general solicitation is published with topic areas that your agency has a need to fulfill requirements or close capability gaps. The target in the CSO method case though can be much broader than the R&D purpose of BAAs, with the focus of bringing in innovative commercial solutions in a significantly streamlined manner. By satisfying your competition requirements with the comprehensive, open solicitation topics you can now evaluate solutions not only faster, but independent of comparing tradeoffs and by instead looking at the individual merits of the proposed solution – and without a fixed, complicated competition timeline.
The flexibility in using CSOs also allow the competition method to be used across a program lifecycle depending on the need. In early stages, perhaps you are using a CSO competition to downselect companies where you are more focused on “the art of the possible” than the “maturity of the tech” Perhaps you have a mature software baseline on a large program and want to hold a series of tech ingestion challenges, via a CSO-styled competition, to maintain best in breed capability for the larger program baseline. Both are appropriate to use the CSO method, but you would conduct the competition differently to meet your program needs!
Keep in mind that when using the CSO competition method, you are generally acquiring commercial products and services – and thus the intellectual property behind those will not transfer to the Government. Here is the dirty little secret though… even though Commercial is in the CSO acronym-soup; the principles behind it (streamline, downselect, try before you buy, etc…) can be applied to any non-FAR procurement! So get out there, sing the CSO-song, and get creative in how you can apply these principles to get the best capability into the hands of our Warfighters.