Groups within an agency should work together, says Bob Leek, deputy chief information officer in Multnomah County, Ore. “I believe that the best practice for tech buying is to develop a partnership between procurement, finance and technology teams. The technology team is in the best position to represent the What and the Why of a technology need, and procurement and finance should provide the How with respect to getting that technology.”

Leek (photo below to the right) says all three groups should work together to manage each tech buy, before submitting a formal request to procurement. “Each need should have a process that is tuned to that specific need — rapid, one-step procurement for certain things, and full RFI/RFP cycles for things at the other extreme.”

The goal for the tech buy is clear, Leek says. “Everyone should be focused on achieving the outcome of delivering services to the public and not be embroiled in just protecting or delivering on their individual part of the process.”

For tech buys, it’s important that finance officials take part in the planning process, says Oakland County, Mich.’s Bertolini. “Make sure your finance people are at the table. IT and finance go hand-in-hand because it’s such a large investment by the government, so we need to make sure that the finance staffers know exactly what’s happening.”

Bertolini explains a flawed process: “Your department does a wonderful RFP, you get this great solution your agency is going to use, and then you find out you don’t have the money to pay for it, so then you scramble around, you are trying to find the money within your budget, or through other departments’ budgets, and then, Oh, by the way, months have gone by. Finally, the money has been obtained, so let’s go ahead and issue the contract.”

Bertolini says that without the finance department’s early participation in the planning process, it could take a year or longer to obtain the needed funding to pay for and implement the technology, which could be out of date at that point. “That’s just way too long,” Bertolini laments.

Agency lawyers also need to be involved from the get-go, Bertolini says. “It’s important that you have the lawyers present early in the planning process for a tech buy. Not just when you are getting ready to contract, but when you are actually doing the RFP. That way, they have a much better sense of what actually needs to be done, so they can begin the contract work early in the process.” Bertolini believes taking that step early in the tech buy process can save some time.

Another procurement official that sees the wisdom of using legal advice in tech buys is Kristy Varda, purchasing supervisor in the Frederick County, Va., Public Schools. Varda (photo to the left) serves on the NIGP task force that is developing the “IT Procurement Best Practice” series of reports. Go here for details on the NIGP series.

“Meet with your local attorney to discuss and learn what other items he/she would find to be a problem if the agreement was to go forward,” Varda advises. Her article, “Contracts: Negotiating Technology Contracts,” appeared in Government Procurement and at the Government Procurement site. Go here to view the item.

GET THE VIEWS OF OUTSIDERS

Outside entities can play important roles in technology buys, says Terry McKee, IT and procurement director at Knoxville’s (Tenn.) Community Development Corp. The corporation is the public housing authority for Knoxville, Tenn., and Knox County, Tenn. McKee is a member of the NIGP task force that is developing the “IT Procurement Best Practice” series of reports.