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Want to Do Business With Government? Be a Partner, Not a Vendor

Working with government customers is distinct from strictly commercial relationships in important ways. Texas CIO Amanda Crawford has some tips on how to cultivate lasting partnerships with the public sector.

Texas CIO Amanda Crawford
Government Technology/David Kidd
MINNEAPOLIS — While some officials talk about bringing a business mindset to government, there are significant differences between how the private and public sectors operate.

Former Georgia Chief Technology Officer Steve Nichols laid out some of the unique aspects of working with government in an interview last year.

“Often your customers are mandated by statute. The amount of resources you have to solve a problem might be set by the state budget office, also by the legislature, and they might have arbitrary deadlines, and all of those really shape what you’re going to end up having to deliver,” Nichols said.

On top of that, add the complex, non-negotiable procurement rules that govern how the public sector engages with industry. At this week's NASCIO conference in Minneapolis, GT asked CIOs what vendors should do in order to successfully work with government as true partners.

“The right partners and the best partners are the ones at the table walking through the journey with you,” said Vermont CIO Denise Reilly-Hughes, adding that every state's rules of engagement are a little bit different.

Texas CIO and Executive Director of the Department of Information Resources Amanda "Mandy" Crawford offered three pieces of advice to potential partners: Understand what makes the public sector unique, adopt a long-term mindset, and accept the ins and outs of state contracting and procurement.

"We appreciate somebody understanding the unique nature of public-sector contracting and procurement," Crawford said. "We know it’s not always easy. We know it’s confusing, but it really helps us to get to 'yes' faster and to get to a contract faster when we have folks coming in who understand that side of things.”

Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.
Lauren Kinkade is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.