A few months ago, my column focused on how government can actually do things better than the private industry, especially in the area of procurement. Since government provides services that have little to no competition, especially within its own jurisdiction, the need to tout its successes is often overlooked. In addition to the fact that mainstream media prefers scandal, government often doesn’t comprehend the value of marketing. This issue is exacerbated within many public-sector IT departments, where a “keep your head down, do a good job and you will be noticed” attitude prevails.

Not so in Georgia. Shortly after my column about procurement reform was published, I was contacted by Rodney Jenkins, director of communications and marketing for the Georgia Department of Administrative Services. Apparently my message resonated with Georgia officials, but more than that, they were looking for another opportunity to tell their story. Unlike private-sector marketing efforts though, they are spreading the word to encourage other jurisdictions to embark on reform and benefit from Georgia’s efforts. In addition to professionalizing the state’s procurement efforts, saving money and increasing buying power using strategic processes, such as spending analysis enabled by leading-edge analytical technologies, Commissioner Brad Douglas desires to expand this approach nationwide. He envisions creating an “elephant in the marketplace” that wields tremendous purchasing power, achieves significant economies of scale and best utilizes taxpayer dollars.

Tooting Your Own Horn

While a fine line exists between getting the word out and bragging, IT departments benefit when the rest of the organization is regularly reminded of the value of their contributions. Even when IT is not officially selling services to the rest of the organization, the return on investment in marketing is high. It helps others better understand what IT can do for them, what IT has done successfully, which builds trust, and describes how IT enables and improves the organization’s delivery of services.

The message is minimized or even lost though when IT celebrates successes that aren’t respected by the remainder of the organization. Recently I watched as awards were given out to project and IT staff for being on time and within budget for an enterprise system project. In addition to giving these awards based on delayed schedules and increased budgets, they refused to acknowledge that end-users and government officials felt the system did not meet their specifications. Since the end-users weren’t satisfied, the awards added insult to injury. And IT and project staff were seen as out of touch and unconcerned, further widening the divide between IT and the rest of the organization.

Hitting the Right Notes

My esteemed colleague, Thera Bradshaw, understood the value of marketing IT in a relevant manner. While working with Bradshaw in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I admired the way she made the message about the audience. While the number of bits and bytes processed can be impressive and convey the scale of IT services, she focused on the technology’s impact — masking IT’s success in how business units benefited from enabling technologies.

She ensured that the message was relevant and communicated in a professional manner. For example, IT produced a high-quality annual report. Although some IT colleagues questioned the value of producing it, we found that the report was well received, improved IT’s image, and strengthened the bond between IT and customers. Decreasing public safety response times, increasing revenue collection and reducing government’s operating costs are much more compelling (and relevant) than hearing about increasing bandwidth, adding storage capacity and replacing legacy systems.

Liza Lowery Massey  | 
Liza Lowery Massey served as a public-sector IT executive for nearly 20 years, including as CIO of Los Angeles. She then established the CIO Collaborative to provide public-sector research, benchmarking and consulting services. She also teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas