Government and the Marketplace: Bridging a Divide

Vendors and government buyers must work together to develop new forums designed to share perspectives on how each others’ world operates.

by Patrick Moore, former CIO, Georgia / October 30, 2014
To bridge the divide between a marketplace that's filled with ideas and solutions and governments of all sizes that struggle to take advantage of those innovative offerings, the two must work together. Flickr/Ken Rowland
To bridge the divide between a marketplace that's filled with ideas and solutions and governments of all sizes that struggle to take advantage of those innovative offerings, the two must work together. Flickr/Ken Rowland

As one longstanding government executive recently noted to a well-known tech vendor, it's not easy to navigate the state government market, and if this services provider wanted to engage, it would need to invest in the long haul.

“How interested are you in the state government market?” the official asked. The vendor, who had just presented a solution that could help the state address an enterprise issue, gave an accurate and telling reply: “We are as interested in the state government market as the state government market is interested in us.”

Herein lies the divide between a marketplace – filled with ideas and solutions – and governments of all sizes that struggle to take advantage of those innovative offerings. Government processes that were put in place by legislatures reacting to the latest headlines of deals gone bad and understaffed procurement agencies trying to keep up with market trends while juggling multiple RFPs from numerous agencies can create a perception that the state and local market is almost impenetrable.

Vendors, on the other hand, do not take the time to understand the motivations of all stakeholders involved in a state government procurement. Instead, vendors operate as they do with commercial clients, relying on feature sets and ROI talking points to influence their potential buy.  

Yet innovation is a theme that sits front of mind for every state CIO and every governor. The National Association of State CIOs' (NASCIO) 2014 survey noted that for more than two-thirds of CIOs, innovation is a critical part of their role. But, governments don't have a track record when it comes to innovation. Unlike the private sector, which must invest in innovation to maintain market relevancy, governments do not have an “innovation” line item in their budgets.

And to rely solely on the “big” providers – the ones with the resources to invest heavily in the state and local government market – is to ignore a wave of new solutions that smaller- and medium-sized companies can offer.

The same NASCIO survey also states that CIOs are increasingly brokers of services – they must coordinate the activities of multiple disparate entities, many of them commercial organizations with their own drivers and objectives. This brings us back to the original problem – bridging the divide between innovation offered in the marketplace and adoption of that innovation within the walls of government.    

So what does one do? The answer does not rest with one party alone. Vendors and government buyers must work together to develop new forums designed to share perspectives on how each others' world operates. The outcomes these forums produce should focus on process improvement within the procurement processes, a deeper understanding of what the market offers, and a clearer view of the buyers’ and sellers’ motivations and challenges. Adoption the following principles in sales strategies and procurement processes would help all parties: 

  1. Empathy: Service providers and governments must take time to walk in each others' shoes. Oftentimes governments see “greedy” providers out to “gouge” taxpayers. The market, on the other hand, often characterizes government as slow, inefficient and risky. Both perceptions are grounded in experience, but ignore the positive outcomes that occur on a regular basis when parties take the time to understand respective motivations.
  2. Transparency: Providers should tell their buyers why a piece of information is important to them. Governments should provide RFP dates and budget information. Developing trust early helps both parties meet each others' objectives.
  3. Engagement: Providers that are selling strategies must acknowledge that changes in processes require support at the highest levels of government. Soliciting feedback from government clients on process improvements – and providing recommendations from the market’s perspective – help create a partnering environment that will produce better outcomes. The collaborative nature of a government sale is much greater than it is in the commercial world.

A recent initiative led by the Center for Digital Government, the research arm of Government Technology's parent company, e.Republic Inc., brought state governments and the market together to develop a best practices approach to purchasing cloud and as-a-service offerings.  Some states are finding creative ways to allow more dialog with potential providers during live procurements In a market characterized by 50 different states, each with its own unique manner of purchasing, this level of collaboration is invaluable to buyers and sellers.

Government is not getting smaller. Improving services to citizens and increasing transparency into government operations is the antidote to growing bureaucracies. This can only be done through new technologies.  Recognizing this, the government marketplace is growing. Venture capital funds focused exclusively on technologies for government are springing up, delivery models are maturing, and the number of government services offered digitally is growing. Government must be interested in the marketplace and vice versa.  With some effort, the right changes that will create outcomes that help citizens can be made.
 

Patrick Moore has spent his career working to improve government and its responsiveness to citizens. He spent eight years working for Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who was committed to making Georgia the best managed state in the nation, and helped him implement an organizational model that was unique to government. Moore served as state CIO from 2006 to 2010, during which he led a transformational restructuring of the state's technology function. Currently Moore is a fellow for the Center for Digital Government, the research arm of Government Technology's parent company, e.Republic Inc., and is the managing principal for Set Consulting, where he works to help governments and private-sector firms implement strategies and partnerships that harness technology's power for outcomes that benefit citizens.