New technology needs can catch us by surprise. A vendor announces they will no longer be providing updates to their software. A core database on which an application relies is being “sunsetted” in a year. A law changes, requiring you to collect an entirely new set of data that your current application suite cannot currently handle. You have no choice but to initiate the procurement process.
Yet for many agencies, the marketplace for government technology has changed dramatically since the last time they went through a procurement. Perhaps cloud is the only path forward, when an on-premise solution used to be acceptable. Maybe the vendors you were familiar with are no longer in business. Ultimately, the marketplace is wildly different and you have to learn about it. An agency’s best place to start is determining its objectives for new technology. Then, it’s time to survey the market and learn about what has become available since your last procurement.
Surveying the market may be easier said than done, however. Many vendors, providing many products creates a huge amount of potential solutions. Facing a mountain of upcoming research, it may be unclear where to even start. Here are some ways to get the process started and begin learning about your options:
- Post an RFI
A “request for information” (RFI) is a formal first step in many procurement processes. The goal of an RFI is to obtain information on the capabilities of vendors in a non-binding fashion, i.e., just because a vendor is invited to demo in the RFI process doesn’t mean they’ll win the eventual contract. While an agency doesn’t have to put together a solicitation of the same level of detail as a Request for Proposal (RFP), the more an agency asks about in the RFI, the better equipped the agency will be for the RFP.
- Ask Around
Tried and true, one of the best ways to understand the market is to simply ask peers what they are using and what they’ve learned. Reach out to your colleagues at similarly sized agencies, agencies that neighbor you, or agencies that share a similar mission. This works particularly well in government agencies, where there is no real focus on profits or any type of bottom line. For example, it would be unlikely that Pfizer would be willing to share helpful information with Novartis – they want to retain their advantage in the pharmaceutical industry. Neighboring police jurisdictions, however, are trying to catch the same criminals, so they’re incentivized to help their peers be successful.
- Hire a Consultant
Another low-risk way to assess the market is by hiring a consultant that has ideally run similar processes for other agencies. In doing so, decision makers and IT leadership aren’t distracted from their normal day-to-day responsibilities, while the experienced consultant manages a time-tested, crystallized process. Many consultants have deep knowledge of the particular market in the first place, so they will immediately know where to source other information required. The one drawback, however, is cost. A multi-month, complex RFP process run by a consultant can easily cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Go to a Conference
An easy way to get a snapshot of any market is to simply attend a technology conference. Over the course of one or a few days, vendors will peddle their wares and provide demos, marketing material and information regarding their product suite to any prospective purchasers. Conferences also provide a common time and location for peers from different government agencies to meet and converse, further helping each other understand the current capabilities in the marketplace.
The best procurement processes start with a high-quality understanding of what the market currently offers. While comprehensive research requires an upfront investment of time and money, consider these resources well spent for a successful transition to new technology. Using one or some of the above methods will help any agency understand what their options look like, and will yield a procurement process that is measured, robust and comprehensive.
Matthew Polega is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.