Connecting state and local government leaders

What’s Procurement Got to Do With IT?

An Alabama state office building in Montgomery.

An Alabama state office building in Montgomery. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

Through the efforts of their national associations, state CIOs and procurement officers are learning how to read from the same sheet music.

“When an IT [information technology] project fails, we immediately go back to the contract and figure out how to blame procurement.”

This is what one chief information officer jokingly told us over the course of our work together. Jokes aside, how many state CIOs or chief procurement officers have heard this before? (It’s ok, you don’t have to raise your hand).

There are many reasons why state government IT projects fail in states, but having a flawed or failing IT procurement process shouldn’t be one of them—and most of the time isn’t. But the fact remains that failed or flawed IT projects cost states millions of dollars—so, how can we improve that and change the “procurement is to blame” narrative? How can we adapt to the ever-evolving face of digital government and deliver services to our citizens in the way they want to receive them?

These and other questions are what the National Association of State Procurement Officials set out to answer when they invited the National Association of State Chief Information Officers to join them in the NASPO-NASCIO Joint Task Force on State IT Procurement Negotiations.

When the task force was formed at the beginning of 2017, there were a few things we knew for sure: state CIOs cited the procurement process as a major pain point in their day-to-day operations, and CPOs felt there was a lot of finger pointing and not as much listening and understanding.

We know this because in July 2016, both associations came together for a joint roundtable on IT procurement.

This was the first time both associations sat down in a room together to talk IT procurement and, also the first time some CIOs and CPOs from the same state had an open and honest conversation about this issue. You can read all about the roundtable here, but a key outcome of the roundtable was the development of an action plan, setting a vision for CPOs and CIOs to navigate the ever-changing terrain of state IT procurement. Spoiler alert: the action plan included a lot of “we need to talk about this” type of narrative. So, we did—which brings us back to the task force.

The task force, co-chaired by NASPO’s Sarah Hilderbrand, who is Idaho’s chief procurement officer and NASCIO’s Jim Smith, who is Maine’s chief information officer, included CPOs and CIOs from 15 states. The task force worked for nine months, diving deep into the issue of IT procurement negotiations and other common themes in the state IT procurement process. Members of the task force came together in August 2017, and met for an intense day long workshop. They discussed the outcome of their work, results of a survey sent to CPOs and CIOs which included responses from 40 states, and agreed on recommendations for improving the IT procurement process. “State IT Procurement Negotiations: Working Together to Reform and Transform,” a paper summarizing that work, was published on September 19, 2017. The publication includes 18 joint recommendations for IT procurement improvement related to the four key areas of relationship building; procurement processes; centralization; and legislation and policy.

We invite you to read the publication for yourself, but there are a few things we now know for sure: IT touches all aspects of state government—or at least will in the future—so, therefore, does IT procurement. While the majority of IT procurements are successful, you may only hear about IT procurement when things go wrong—working together, we want to change that narrative. Let’s champion the successes of IT procurements, and encourage states to strive for even more improvement.

We hope that CIOs and CPOs will use our work and the task force publication to start a conversation. While that progress won’t happen overnight, we hope you’ll join us on this narrative-changing mission. If you are a CIO or CPO, now is the time to begin that conversation with your respective counterpart. If you are in a state government agency, think about what you can do to transform and reform the state IT procurement process. If you are a state legislator, think about what laws or regulations in your state might be a barrier to IT procurement success. If you are a governor or advise the governor, throw your support behind reforming and transforming the state IT procurement process. If you are a citizen, demand that the laws, regulations and policies in your state support the delivery of digital services to you. A quote in our recent publication sums it up in the best way, “procurement and IT are not going away, but they will change—so collaboration must happen.”

Megan Smyth, JD, is a Senior Policy Analyst for the National Association of State Procurement Officers and Meredith Ward is a Senior Policy Analyst for the National Association State Chief Information Officers.

NEXT STORY State CIOs Set to Take Center Stage in Austin