Thoughts on software procurement from a former state controller


Private sector vendors/suppliers seeking to conduct business with government often find frustration with the maze of policy and legislative hurdles encountered during the procurement process.  As difficult as the experience may have been from the private sector perspective, take a moment to look at the other side of the procurement activity---that is, from the public sector perspective of the government manager seeking to improve services to the taxpayer.   One may initially conclude that funding is the main issue for the public manager; but that may often be the least of the issues encountered.

For example, let’s assume for a moment that funding to replace an antiquated system is able to overcome budget challenges such as competing programs (think education), internal and external priority debates, and shrinking “availability”.  The next step is the RFP process for complying with state/federal laws and policies geared firmly at equaling the playing field for all competitors, but often losing sight of the agency need.  The RFP itself is often a very challenging activity as the manager knows what they don’t have; they just aren’t sure how to get what they want.  It can be compared to trying to replace a 1964 Ford Falcon with a 2011 Ford Focus with funding sufficient for a 70’s style K-car and specifications generic enough for an Edsel. 

So let’s further assume that the RFP is awarded and a multi-year implementation begins.  The public manager has to:

  • Identify and re-deploy subject matter expert resources to serve on the implementation team
  • Identify a project manager (from within current resources)
  • Keep the team together for the multi-year implementation
  • Be prepared to modify the system to accommodate federal/state policy and law changes
  • Maintain the support of potential leadership changes in the department
  • Stay on time and on budget
  • Keep current systems viable and operational, AND
  • Defend---often daily---the program against the attack of the media on the project

Even with the best partnership with the vendor, systems rarely respond as hoped at ‘go live’, leading to further media abuse and scrutiny by executive and legislative oversight groups.  Such challenges are intimidating and exhausting to potential public managers and can often challenge the career of the project sponsor.  So the next time you’re frustrated with the government procurement process, just imagine what it’s like on the other side....remember why the word “partnership” is so meaningful and important to public sector managers.


About Author

Robert Powell

Senior Advisor, Government Policy, Fuquay Solutions

Robert Powell’s over 35 years experience in multiple aspects of North Carolina state government, combined with his strong knowledge of governmental finance and operations, can provide the clients of Fuquay Solutions with critical insight and opportunity. Read Robert's full bio.

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