Helping Hands Helping Hands

With funding sources diminishing and the need to appeal to funders becoming an increasingly competitive process, some IT project sponsors have begun seeking more creative solutions. For some, these solutions come in the form of public-private partnerships. Such partnerships combine the public sector's ability to establish an effective infrastructure for service delivery with the private sector's knowledge and expertise, helping both to remain competitive long term.

According to some experts, public-private alliances are becoming more common as budgets become tighter. Richard Norment, executive director of The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, said the public sector is beginning to identify opportunities presented by an underutilized asset. Growing expenses - such as health care, Social Security and paying interest on the national debt - have dramatically reduced the number of federal dollars available over the past decade, he said.

Yet, as the population increases, the demand for more public services increases. And if government at the federal, state and local levels lacks the financial resources to meet demands, the challenge is to find ways to identify new potential. For that reason, public-private partnerships offer a diverse and unrecognized potential to tap into innovative resources.

"In a public-private partnership, you have blending of the resources - sometimes it is money, but it is also innovative ideas, process for implementation," Norment said. "Basically what you are tapping into is the experience of the private sector."

For instance, a municipality may hire a private provider to install cameras at intersections to snap photographs of certain types of infractions. The vendor then sends out the tickets and takes a percentage of the fine to cover equipment costs. For police, this type of cooperative endeavor reduces the demands of preparing related paperwork, since a recording of the incident is automatic.

Norment agrees these types of partnerships are here to stay, especially now that funding is in short supply.

"I think the budgetary constraints that all levels of government are seeing, matched with the increasing demands of the public, are inevitably going to lead to more public-private partnerships," he said. Establishing alliances between the public and private sector helps build closer working relationships, which result in more effective service delivery, he said.

Pioneering Partnerships

Adrian Farley, interim deputy director of the Procurement Division for the Department of General Services, said California was one of the first states to use public-private partnerships for IT procurement.

One of these public-private projects was a consortium with consulting company A.T. Kearney. The company's role was to provide its expertise on strategic sourcing, Farley said. In return, the consulting group received a share of the savings.

While Farley touts the merits of integrating resources into such strategic alliances, he also said when the public and private sector get together, there must be strong fiscal accountability. The solution that worked in California was to hire a third party to document the total savings. For the consortium effort, which turned out to be approximately a three-year venture, the total documented savings exceeded $100 million.

Another public-private venture in New York is intended to cost-effectively bring broadband Internet access to rural residents. The state's Universal Broadband Initiative involves the creation of a fiber-optic ring that will provide the basic infrastructure for vendors to tap into and provide Internet access, according to Ed Hemminger, CIO of Ontario County, N.Y.

"We think we are unique in that we do not provide services in direct competition with the private sector," Hemminger said. "We just provide the backbone infrastructure."

He called the project a countywide initiative and said the scope of this endeavor is much greater than the typical IT project. In fact, Hemminger predicts the infrastructure created by the installation of the 180-mile fiber-optic ring - consisting of 144 strands

Suzane Bricker  |  Contributing Writer
Suzane Bricker has extensive experience as a grant writer for educational institutions and social services agencies, and has secured funding for her own nonprofit organization in south Florida. She has a master's degree in mass communication with a minor emphasis in science writing.