Sam Gerstenzang

It’s not just the large government IT projects that need help. I talk with small, medium and large public school districts every day who are continually snookered into buying horrible closed-source, vendor-controlled, content management systems to power their school and district web sites.

For instance, I’m talking with a 60,000-student district in Florida who is going through an RFP process right now where a 5-year non-breakable contract with a well-known vendor is close to a million dollars. I keep telling them that there is no reason they need to spend this kind of money on core technology that is now ubiquitous. Everything they are asking for in regards to functionality can be done with open source software like WordPress or Drupal for a fraction of the cost.

One of the biggest issues is the RFP process itself. For example, one of the proposals I received from a large school district that had put out an RFP was 134 pages long. Holy moly, some account executive spent way too much time on it. To the inexperienced “evaluation committee” however, the very long proposal with mountains of sales materials attached was a sign of “expertise.” In reality, it was not. It was 5 pages of a solid proposal and 100+ pages of pure bullshit.

Clay Johnson at the Department of Better Technology has written at length about this broken government RFP process and how overly-complex procurement rules shut out everyone but the largest vendors who can afford to pay salespeople to chase a 6–18 month RFP process. The smaller, less expensive, and *better* vendors simply don’t have the resources to write 100-page proposals for every single RFP.

Honestly, it’s time for us to stop wasting our taxpayer dollars on bad technology. As technologists, we owe it to ourselves to step up and figure out how to stop these abusive proprietary vendors from preying on our local, state and federal governments.

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