Procurement Summit – How to Empower the CIO

Twenty years ago the government created the role of the Chief Information Officer. But now, two decades later, there’s still a real disconnected between procurement and IT. Procurement systems simply cannot keep up with the pace of the technology. Need proof? Just look at the rollout of healthcare.gov. Many experts say the wrong contractors and the wrong technology were to blame for the troubled launch.

So what can and should be done? Raj Sharma, the founder and CEO of Censeo Consulting Group and co-chair of Public Spend forum, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that procurement is the biggest challenge government faces right now. 

Sharma said there are three areas where CIOs need to take charge in order to improve procurements:

  • How do we empower CIOs to really take control of their portfolios?
  • How do we give CIOs direct of shared commodity spending?
  • What role should the CIOs play in launching and executing large IT programs?

One of the ways the government is looking to tackle procurement issues is to pass legislation that would empower the CIO. But Sharma warns legislation is only the first step. “We can write anything in the legislation, but what we’re seeing is the organizations that do best have their top brass empower the CIOs.” 

Another potential solution is agile contracting. But implementing agile contracting is more difficult than you might imagine. “There is a lot a talk of agile,” said Sharma, “but there’s still a lot of struggle in terms of how do you do it.” 

One example of agile success? “The city of Palo Alto rolled out a new website, but there was a lot of resistance to actually getting citizen feedback,” said Sharma. “However, the CIO really pushed to label the website as a pilot. By switching the wording to pilot, Palo Alto was able to get enormous amounts of feedback.”

“One thing that’s not talked about very much in government is the concept of minimum viable product (MVP). MVP is concept in industry where the most basic need is where you start. Then you get feedback from users. Then you build in the next layer,” said Sharma.

Illinois is actually looking at changing how they budget to include purchasing outcomes. “The governor started a budgeting for results initiative and appointed a commission to look at purchasing outcomes,” said Sharma. “One of the first thing the first things the commission recommended was instead of identifying goals and objectives for every agency, they’ve agreed to 10 outcomes for the entire state. Instead of trying to standardize on goals and they’ve standardized outcomes for the state,” said Sharma.

Basically, all this standardization comes down to being able to make difficult decisions. Government would have to create strong priorities and stick to them for this method of procurement to work. “It’s a very difficult thing to do, but we’ve been able to map a lot of these programs,” said Sharma. “For example, you have 50 programs that are supporting a certain outcome. Now we’re starting to ask, where are we putting our money, and what’s working and what’s not? That’s a really important thing, especially in the current budgetary and fiscal environment.”

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