New Research: Ways to Reduce Government IT Procurement Failure

This post is 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.

Earlier posts in this series summarized the report’s findings on how endemic the problem of IT program failure is – hint: it’s bad, really bad – and highlighted five major issues causing this failure. The report goes on to provide six recommendations based on examples of successful programs, actions that can be taken today, with no need for major legislative changes. This post will cover the first two recommendations.

Two common causes for IT program failure are the lack of agreement on problems or desired outcomes and weak leadership. The report recommend establishing clear lines of authority and accountability and developing a simply needs and outcomes statement, instead of voluminous RFPs.

Regarding the first recommendation, the authors write:

“Given the multitude of stakeholders for any given government IT program, strong leadership, and a well-defined governance process are prerequisites to shepherd the program from the start. In fact, the [Government Accountability Office] found that program leadership is the number one key success factor for large IT projects that work. 

…Large-scale IT programs must have two positions in place from the start: a senior executive-in-charge that has the authority to make key decisions and can be held accountable for program results… [and] a ‘qualified and empowered’ program executive with relevant expertise and experience in the program domain, but more importantly key management skills to guide large-scale programs… this person must have the conviction, willingness, and ability to ‘push back’ against demands made by stakeholders that do not align with the desired outcomes of the program.”

Regarding the second recommendation:

“More is not better when it comes to requirements. We need to move away from the notion that somehow improving requirements means writing a 100-page document with prescriptive requirements. Instead, programs must focus on writing succinct statement of needs and outcomes. This simple document, developed and approved through the governance structure would become the foundation for all subsequent activities, including prioritizing needs, selecting vendors, and managing performances.”

Jason Busch, Founder and Managing Director of Spend Matters, adds: “We’re seeing an increasing number of sophisticated sourcing and procurement efforts move to an RFI-centric approach that encourages supplier creativity to arrive at the best possible outcome – rather than locking vendors into rigid specifications. Simplicity in vendor engagement and a strategy of ‘listening to the market’ can ultimately yield happier constituents and stakeholders, even if the sourcing process appears to be more art than science as it is happening. The Invisible Hand can work its way within a given market in significant ways that extend beyond just price – but we must give it the leeway to make the gestures it wants to make.”

To read about these recommendations in detail, download the free report here.

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