The way state and local government buys technology is changing. But how?
/ April 6, 2017
Flexibility. If there’s one thing that everybody involved in government procurement — chief information officers, procurement officials, vendors and civic tech folk — appear to agree on, it’s that the future of government’s technology-buying should be more flexible.
The trend in that direction seems well underway too. Consider, implores longtime public-sector IT specialist Sherry Amos, the cloud.
“I’ve seen a maturity in the last five years, maturity not only of acceptance of cloud solutions but of [the] necessity of cloud solutions, not only for cost containment but because fundamentally it’s the only way to use certain solutions,” said Amos, the managing director of industry strategy for education and government at Workday.
And the cloud, even more than traditional government tech work, is a kind of symbol of flexibility. The whole software-as-a-service model is built around the concept of buying something available over the air instead of installed via disk; purchased through subscription as opposed to bought outright; updated weekly rather than released in a new version every year.
The cloud isn’t the only driver here. Government technology procurement is, in the timelines of the digital age, an ancient quagmire. The process differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally goes something like this: Agency X has a tech need. It spends a really, really long time trying to write down its needs in a request for proposal. It requires vendors to take on as much risk as possible in the process. The vendor gets a massive check and a deadline, often a year or longer depending on the system, to deliver the goods.
Everybody has something bad to say about this approach. It takes too long. It costs too much. It favors the entrenched tech giants over innovative smaller players. It delivers products that users find difficult to navigate. It props up a paradigm of slow replacement cycles resulting in legacy systems that become more difficult to keep running over time. The list goes on.
So how are state and local governments working to create a better system?