Blog post

Vendors and Consultants Should Not Be Driving Government 2.0

By Andrea Di Maio | December 23, 2009 | 5 Comments

e-government

In an earlier post I discussed about whether vendors may derail government 2.0. My line of reasoning was that most of what government 2.0 is about is bottom-up experimentation and transparency, and neither may be exactly welcome to incumbent IT service providers. In fact, much of shortcomings in e.government relate to doing too much in areas like online services and portals without asking questions such as “is this what people need or care about?”. Also, empowering groups of people to develop their own services by leveraging open data as well as engaging a new breed of suppliers by making procurement far more transparent eats into the revenues of most of the usual suspects (both large and small, locally incumbent vendors).

Earlier today I had an inquiry with a European vendor and I was asked how they can best advise their clients who have hired them to articulate their future e-government/gov 2.0 strategy. My point was that they have to choose between doing the right thing for the client and doing the right thing for themselves.

The former may imply advising the client to spend less in technology, to insource some of the skills needed to figure out a sustainable engagement strategy, to focus on developing policies and empowering employees rather than on improving portals and web sites. The consequences may be less business for the vendor in the short to medium term, as their client pauses and reflects about the best course of action.

The problem is that often government organizations lack the right skills or – if they have those – priorities are different and it is difficult to detach employees who have those skills from their everyday’s responsibilities. So vendors and consultants (assuming they really get the essence of what government 2.0 is about) can play a key role to gather information, to stimulate and propose. What they should not be doing is to own or drive any government 2.0 initiative.

Government 2.0 is about spending less rather than more, it is about leveraging existing resources (employees, public data, consumer tools) rather than increasing them, it is about starting small and scaling fast, it is about focusing on specific problem areas rather than developing horizontal strategies, it is about listening rather than talking.

So, how many vendors are prepared to do the right thing for their clients?

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5 Comments

  • Pam Broviak says:

    I work for a municipality and totally agree with your post. Too many times I have had vendors or consultants try to shove their solutions down our throats. They ignore that their product or design does not meet our needs, and I have had many get angry that I would even dare to question their idea. Consultants and vendors who act like this do not view the government as a true customer but only as some entity they have to deal with to get money.

    Fortunately there are exceptional vendors and consultants out there. ESRI is certainly one of these in my opinion. They seem to be moving in the direction you are suggesting – releasing tools that build on what we already have which allows us to scale up in an efficient and cost effective manner. And their recent efforts seem to be focused on helping government better achieve Gov 2.0 goals and objectives.

  • Well stated. Unfortunately many people skim headlines without reading the entire post. There is a difference between legacy, incumbent vendors who’ve built large businesses by over charging multiple government organizations with the same, redundant, over priced, inferior technology. There are a few incumbents (a prior commenter cited ESRI and I agree that they are very much striving to embrace gov 2.0) and some new entrants who think of themselves as facilitators and enablers, not drivers of these initiatives. My company, Socrata, offers a very cost effective, best-of-breed shared services platform for any government organization to share their data. There are all sorts of political and bureaucratic reasons that prevent agencies from sharing their technology with each other. But we can achieve the same result with an economic, market driven model. The drivers of data transparency are the public servants who embrace the ideals that government will operate more efficiently when it is more transparent. Our platform simply helps them achieve the desired result once they’ve decided it’s the right thing to do.

  • All:

    Folks in government need to understand that sharing services almost always increases costs . . . it is a paradox. The uninformed fall into this trap sharing front and back offices and IT believing that money is saved, it is not. Without an understanding of the nature of demand we lock in waste. The biggest lever for improvement is the design and management of work.

    Please read:
    http://blog.newsystemsthinking.com/blog/shared-services-strategy/0/0/dos-and-donts-of-a-shared-services-strategy

    Regards, Tripp Babbitt
    http://www.newsystemsthinking.com
    http://www.thesystemsthinkingreview.com (Government)

  • Andrea,

    You hit one of the nails on the head, again! I keep having to tell suppliers in the words of The Who “we won’t get fooled again.” But as to allocating staff, as a head of IT I’m too low down the food chain to put priorities on the things that matter, the citizen, whilst all we do is try and save money!

    Season’s greetings

    Mick http://greatemancipator.com

  • Jaime Gracia says:

    Andrea,

    Great post, although I do not entirely agree with all your premises. Certainly, Gov 2.0 needs to be a government-led initiative, almost to the point of being inherently governmental. However, industry can and should play an important role in advising and guiding Government on communication best practices in relation to collaboration tools and techniques. It is a ground up approach, by certainly engaging leaders to change culture and policies that help facilitate this transformation from a closed, walled-off environment into one that is transparent and collaborative. However, this requires investments into technologies and hiring the right skills to teach and advise as they currently need to be grown from within Government. Critical mass is attained once you see the increases in efficiency and productivity, and cost, schedule, and performance metrics are achieved, and this is where the end-state will be.

    You also make the assumption that ultimately a trade-off decision by industry is needed, by either “doing what is right,” or continuing the status quo which may not be in the Government’s best interest. I do not believe this to be the case. Certainly in looking at Acquisition 2.0, it is a process oriented construct that requires looking into the issue holistically for benefit by both Government and industry. This may require the opposite of what you presume, which is to advise the client to spend more on the right technology, to outsource some of the skills needed to figure out a sustainable engagement strategy, and to focus on developing policies and empowering employees rather than on improving portals and web sites. It is based on current requirements that are needed to improve the procurement process ultimately for the Government.

    I believe a balanced approach is necessary for success in both the short and long-term, and this includes getting advice and guidance from experts in the field, which may not come from within Government. You seem to posit a win-lose situation with industry involvement in Gov 2.0 initiatives, and I believe companies (like mine, Concepts & Strategies, in the interest of full-disclosure) are having a positive impact in helping the Government achieve success in a win-win mindset.