In his book Free, author and Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson insisted that "the trend lines that determine the cost of doing business online all point the same way: to zero."
On behalf of federal agencies, the U.S. General Services Administration found a way to pay for things that could have been used for free. It took most of a year to negotiate contracts with Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Blist, SlideShare, AddThis and blip.tv that met federal standards. We're told there are more to come. The model makes more sense for social platforms -- such as OpenSocial, Socialcast and KickApps -- that let purchasers support private-label Web social networking and microblogging.
Such changes in the way that software moves from being a purchased product to a consumed service should draw attention to the not-so-subtle difference between procuring a commodity product versus a dynamic set of services that cater to the public's evolving needs for -- and expectations of -- online services. Public procurement processes were forged around the former, some of which have proven unhelpful with the latter. That said, a number of states have begun to adapt their procurement practices to reconcile past practices with today's practices and tomorrow's prospects.
For example, as the Center for Digital Government documented in a recent white paper, Texas recently rebid its TexasOnline portal contract to NIC. Procurement officials worked closely with the lead agency, the Department of Information Resources (DIR), to run a competitive procurement that protected and promoted the state's interests, while adapting to the realities of contemporary technology business models, which included:
The goal of the procurement was to maximize competition by providing enough flexibility to attract the best available portal service providers to the competitive rebid, while delivering a contract that could adapt to the immediate and future goals of the DIR and TexasOnline.
That may put a glossy sheen on what was a protracted, difficult process. As one former official familiar with the process told me, "I don't consider that contract to be terribly innovative for a portal, but it is definitely light years ahead of most procurements."
One small step for a portal. One giant step for public procurement.
Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.