As a government entity, your budget is set to cover all expenses throughout the year. But advancements in technology happen continuously. Aligning your agency’s priorities and the procurement process can be a slow, complex process. It’s important to find the ROI.
Limited flexibility in funding new technology
You cannot rely on expanding budgets to keep up with increasing demand for your agencies’ services. The majority of government IT budgets are allocated to operating and maintaining legacy systems: on average 78 percent, with some agencies spending 90 percent on the upkeep of older systems.
There is no quick and easy solution to government procurement. While procurement reform is a long-standing issue for all levels of government, there are ways to start using the technologies you need.
1. Piggybacking on an existing contract
Research an existing contract in your city, county, or state to acquire the same commodities or services at the same or lower price from the other public contract. If you are interested in piggybacking, the best place to start is by reaching out to the contracting government agency. Pooling resources, adopting standard purchasing specs, and issuing bids together using tools like cooperative purchasing agreements and master contracts help drive down costs and improve results.
2. Try before you buy
Find a way to test the technology before deciding to invest, by working with a vendor willing to conduct a pilot. Pilot programs can be narrow in scope, but big in user satisfaction. For instance, instead of overhauling your entire government website, create a pilot site for a particular purpose — for example starting with just one permit request or license application on your way to building out a comprehensive set of online services for local businesses.
3. Problem first, solution second
Spend time looking at the problem that the technology needs to solve before issuing a bid, and don’t box yourself into a tech-only or a highly specified solution. You may assume you need a specific toolset since that’s how the agency operated before. But focusing instead on the issues you want to solve for, or functionality you want to optimize can allow technologists to iterate on solutions that will meet your present and future needs.
4. Conduct a multi-year strategic plan
Create objectives and set goals for where you would like your agency to go in the future, and then construct a plan to achieve these objectives. The benefits of strategic planning allow you to take into account what is to come for every part of the organization, taking into account foreseeable changes for all departments. This will allow you to set major goals and then map out what the next few years will look like accordingly. It will also help you strategize what areas will require more of your budget in the longer term.
5. Re-think the RFP
Consider a simpler alternative to a traditional RFP, as a one-page problem statement. This can prime low-cost solutions, like innovation challenges or that pilot program, before committing to a more formal procurement.
6. Get advice
Look to peers in other cities you admire for their innovative solutions. Hear thought leaders discuss trends at conferences dedicated to smart city technology. Join associations where other public servants share advice — like the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers or the Mayors Innovation Project — and platforms where technologists and public servants share effective tech solutions, like Marketplace.city. Or reach out directly to a colleague in another local government. Most people are willing to share their experiences that will support growth nationwide. In addition, those of us who serve the public sector can share perspectives gained from working with many cities. (You can contact us here.)
It’s Time for Change
Technology is advancing rapidly. It’s becoming easier than ever for government agencies to capitalize on innovative solutions. You can learn from other communities that are already doing this effectively — and leverage their insights and these strategies to benefit your community.
Originally published at CityBase.