Choosing the Right IT Vendor for Your Government

Rebecca Woodbury, Senior Management Analyst for the City of San Rafael, CA, recently published an article, “What I Learned ‘Buying’ Our New City Digital Services.” Her insights into procuring a technology vendor are valuable for anyone looking to go down the same path.

Woodbury was tasked with overseeing the creation of a new city website, as well as implementing constituent relationship management (CRM) software. Armed with a consultant and a sincere desire to improve the lives of staff and community members, her team started down the long, familiar road of procurement.

Here is what she learned.

Ask the right questions…of yourselves

Woodbury listened to the consultant interview city department members, asking what technical requirements they wanted out of the new website. After a while, she realized they were asking the wrong questions.

“Looking back, I think I started the procurement out the wrong way by asking the departments about their technical requirements for a new website. I should have asked them about their operations, frustrations and goals.”

The staff didn’t know how to translate their needs and wants into technical requirements. They knew how to do their jobs, what was hindering their work, and where they wanted to go. They needed to start with the basics – what do I really want to get done and what’s stopping me from being effective? Then they could answer, what are the best tools to make this happen?

The vendor’s values matter the most

At the end of the day, we don’t work with brands or checkboxes, we work with people. After dropping the RFP-style approach, Woodbury decided to ask, what type of people do I want to work with?

“Instead, I developed a set of values to guide the process. By moving away from a long list of desired functions and attributes, this allowed us to focus instead on the type of vendor with which we wanted to partner.”

This approach led her to people who could problem solve collaboratively, and who shared her same vision for an adaptive digital platform.

“Both of these vendors exceeded my expectations when it came to their plans for the future. And, instead of saying ‘well, we don’t exactly have a module for that, but we do have a module for this and it’s just $15,000 per year in addition to your base price’ they said “cool, let’s build that.”

When you have people who are doing the work for the same reasons you are, you will produce better results. With her value-driven process, Woodbury was able to find people who care about using technology to continuously improve citizen services.

A better procurement process means better tools…and people

As creative as she was to adapt her project, Woodbury was reflective enough to realize how this change should be reflected in the city’s procurement policy.

“Through this process, we also discovered that we need to change the way we procure technology. So, now we are also embarking on a new journey: updating our process so we can more easily procure the technology of now and the future. Our staff requires 21st century tools because the community deserves 21st century service.”

Effective procurement should not limit drive and innovation, it should facilitate it. Click To Tweet San Rafael has chosen to empower themselves by recognizing a better way to choose their tools, and more importantly a better way to choose their collaborators.

Read: 6 Steps to Efficient Government Software Implementation

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