In many states, the largest employer is the state government, although it may be divided up among a number of agencies. It makes sense, then, that the largest IT organizations in each state could also be the IT organization of state government. Consequently, you could expect those organizations to be able to learn a lot from each other.

That’s the theory behind the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), an organization of state CIOs that held its annual midyear conference in Baltimore last week. More than 550 people, from 46 states, were said to have attended the NASCIO conference.

Procurement

One major area that many attendees struggle with is procurement. In fact, procurement is such a major issue that NASCIO issued a report earlier this year calling for reforms, after its 2015 survey, The Value Equation, found that almost half (47 percent) had “negative outlooks” on IT procurement processes. In addition, they were just about as unhappy with procurement in 2010, 2012 and 2013 surveys, NASCIO added. Vendors weren’t any happier; NASCIO’s corporate partners were reportedly 70 percent “moderately to very dissatisfied” with the state IT procurement process, according to NASCIO.

Participants in a NASCIO conference panel on procurement indicated that as the process works today, it can actually be an obstacle to successful outcomes. That’s something the federal government is attempting to tackle with its General Services Administration’s 18F skunkworks project. “18F puts a focus on ‘making federal acquisitions joyful’ by encouraging a more open dialogue between contract officers and companies themselves,” according to panel participant Dave Zvenyach, 18F’s acquisition management director.

Some states are giving agencies the opportunity to try technology out before they buy it, to prevent costly missteps. Part of the problem, panelists indicated, is that agencies can be too risk-averse, which makes it more challenging to find vendors willing to work with the government.

Public-Private Partnerships

Some state agencies are dealing with that by turning their procurement efforts into more of a public-private partnership with a major vendor that will work with them more closely.

For example, Ohio is centralizing the IT work of 22 of the state’s 26 agencies in a data center run by a single vendor. “Moving agencies away from storing their own data in favor of a centralized center has helped the state cut costs” – as much as $103 million each month—but the change has also gotten Ohio to rethink how it divvies up its tech spending,” writes Alex Koma in StateScoop.

Like many organizations, Ohio state government is looking toward technologies such as the cloud to help reduce its capital expenses and convert them to operational expenses instead, Ohio’s CIO Stu Davis told the conference. “Back in 2010, we probably spent about 80 percent of our money on operations and infrastructure, and just 20 percent on applications that matter to the citizen, and we wanted to flip that,” he said in StateScoop. “We’re at about 50-50 right now, and we want to get to just 30 percent on infrastructure.”

Now that the project is becoming successful, Davis is also getting buy-in from a number of the state’s universities, which are choosing to co-locate their facilities in the state data center rather than buy and operate their own infrastructure, Koma writes, noting that Ohio State University alone thinks it’s saving $1 million a year.

At the same time, states shouldn’t go too far in the other direction by starting to issue procurements more quickly, cautioned panelist Robert Metzger, an attorney specializing in government contracts with the firm Rogers Joseph O’Donnell. “There’s a reason the government procurement process has moved slowly in the past, and he hopes that states can strike a balance as they consider the other side to moving faster,” Koma writes.

Metzger’s compromise suggestion is to have states start issuing more requests for information as a way to define their “goals and objectives,” but still give vendors a short window to “present, demonstrate or even pilot” their systems with the government, Koma writes.

Ultimately, state CIOs need to remember that their constituents don’t care that much about the technology—they just want to be able to get the information they need, reports Koma. “I think about my mom in cases like this,” Davis said. “My mom couldn’t care less about storage, she cares about what programs would benefit her and what she wants to do.”

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