Posted Tuesday, June 6, 2017 by Team Northwoods

Call to Action: Improving IT Procurement in Human Services

Government’s IT procurement process is under fire.

For starters, it’s rigorous, antiquated, and time-consuming—a sentiment that rings true whether you’re the program administrator requesting technology, the state official managing access to the technology, or the provider, like us, working diligently to get your technology in agencies’ hands to help them help others.

GovTech sums up the broken process best in its article exploring how government is reforming IT procurement.

quote-1.png The process differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally goes something like this: Agency X has a tech need. It spends a really, really long time trying to write down its needs in a request for proposal. It requires vendors to take on as much risk as possible in the process. The vendor gets a massive check and a deadline, often a year or longer depending on the system, to deliver the goods.

Everybody has something bad to say about this approach. It takes too long. It costs too much. It favors the entrenched tech giants over innovative smaller players. It delivers products that users find difficult to navigate. It props up a paradigm of slow replacement cycles resulting in legacy systems that become more difficult to keep running over time. The list goes on.


So, why are we telling you this? It's simple:

The quicker human services agencies can get necessary funds and resources to implement new systems, the sooner they can begin to improve processes, reduce costs, and advance community outcomes.

To figure out the best way to move forward, let’s dive a bit deeper into the problem first.


Trouble in IT Procurement Paradise

Here's the short version: technology continues to move forward, while procurement remains stuck in the past. More challenges arise as the two become less and less compatible. Data from National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) underscores the issue:

NASCIO’s list of State CIO Top 10 Priorities for 2017 further exemplifies the need for procurement to keep up with technology innovations.

Consolidation and optimization of services, deployment of cloud/software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, and legacy modernization all fall within the top 5 priorities (numbers 2, 3, and 5, respectively).

Consider this and it comes as no surprise that dealing with inadequate funding and budget constraints also ranked high on the list, coming in at number 4.


Procurement & IT: Innovation in Action

Numerous states have been putting in work over the past several years to revamp and optimize their procurement and IT processes.

NASCIO’s and NASPO's whitepaper, Designing for Agility: Advancing IT and Procurement Modernization, recently highlighted changes that California and Ohio have made to streamline their state’s processes.

  • case-study-california.pngCalifornia. To avoid a large IT project that would have been outdated by the time it was delivered, California shifted to an agile—or modular—procurement process. The state broke its existing large IT project into several smaller pieces, each of which was bid on separately, so that it could solicit and select vendors faster. All parties involved are focused on quickly getting caseworkers the tools they need, and therefore collaboration between IT, procurement, agencies, and users has improved. (Read more from 18F about California’s IT leadership and innovation).

  • case-study-ohio.pngOhio. The state has eliminated road blocks that previously slowed down the time it took for agencies to get access to services. For example, vendors can now be “pre-qualified” before responding to an RFP, and the amount of paperwork required to submit a proposal has been down-sized. Additionally, IT and procurement have increased engagement with agencies to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals. (Read more from Governing about how Ohio expanded its IT expertise.)

What do both examples have in common? They demonstrate that everyone—IT, procurement, agencies, and vendors alike—benefit when the clunky procurement process is streamlined.

It all comes down to delivering value faster. Breaking one large project into several smaller modules means each piece of utility can be delivered in increments. That way, users can take advantage of new tools sooner, and provide feedback to the designers more often, allowing for course correction when necessary.

The really great part about all this? When human services agencies can improve how they deliver services, the communities that rely on those services benefit as a result too.


Now's the Time for Human Services to Take Action

The deadline is approaching for states to opt in to the new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS), which would provide a new model and tools to better support child welfare best practices.

At the same time, the Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs final rule will give states the ability to increase the efficiency of child support programs.

As these two examples demonstrate, human services is undergoing a major transformation. Budgeting and procurement conversations need to happen now for states to fund these changes, and ultimately to comply with the new policies and mandates that accompany them.

This is something we’re closely watching—after all, our customers’ problems are our problems.

We’ll continue to provide resources and reading materials as we come across them that can help your agency navigate these changing waters. We’re also going to be publishing some funding-related resources soon, so be on the lookout for those. (Teaser: State and federal funding is just one way agencies can finance IT projects. We recommend exploring some other creative approaches to human services technology funding too.)

Reach out if you have questions about how any of this—IT/procurement reform or new systems on the horizon—impacts how your agency delivers services.


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