Improving Government IT Procurement: Encourage Risks and Reduce Burdensome Requirements

This is the final post in a five-part series based on Billions in the Balance: Removing Barriers to Competition & Driving Innovation in the Public-Sector IT Market, a new report from Public Spend Forum and Censeo. The report is written by Raj Sharma, CEO of Censeo Consulting Group, and David Wyld, Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University.

As a recap, the six recommendations that the report gives for turning government IT procurement around and bringing about a higher success rate are as follows:

1) Establish clear lines of authority and accountability.

2) Develop a simple needs and outcomes statement, instead of voluminous RFPs.

3) Engage the market early.

4) Develop a cost/outcome (ROI)-focused program strategy.

5) Encourage smart risk-taking.

6) Reduce burdensome requirements and speed up the procurement process.

Parts 3 and 4 covered the first four recommendations in more detail, and today we come to the final two. Federal government procurement’s “check-the-box” culture thwarts innovation by prioritizing avoiding bad press over achieving program objectives, though, such as in the case of Healthcare.gov, sometimes neither is accomplished. A detrimentally risk-averse culture doesn’t apply to the whole public sector, however, as seen in the following example that the report provides:

“When Jonathan Reichental, CIO of Palo Alto, started his job, the city’s website overhaul had been stalled for years. Stakeholders resisted launching the site because of the fear that not all features would meet all user needs, which would open the city up to criticism. Rather than further delaying the program, Reichental labeled the site as a ‘beta test’ and pushed forward with the release. The result: the city received enormous feedback from citizens that it then used to improve the site.”

Jason Busch adds, “Beta programs are more effective when targeted towards a particular group versus opened up more broadly (given scale and other issues/concerns). Still, under any situation, opening yourself up to ‘demand’-based feedback is a natural corollary to soliciting greater input from suppliers in the sourcing process itself.”

The idea of conducting iterative pilots ties in with the final recommendation from the report, which is to speed up the procurement process by simplifying requirements. The authors argue that this would allow new entrants and encourage companies that already work with the government to propose their best and most innovative solutions.

This is but a highly condensed summary of the points raised in the report, so if you are interested in reading about these recommendations in more detail and getting strategies for how to implement them, download the free report here.

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