Yes, local governments need to consider several issues when buying technology

When purchasing systems and software, cities and counties need to focus on what’s important, says Sanford “Sandy” Taylor, director of information technology for Fremont California. He cites the following key considerations that jurisdictions should take into account when purchasing technology:

  • Identify the functional and technical needs of the technology. This part of the procurement process is crucial to achieving the intended goals of the local government.
  • Identify and secure financing for technology acquisition.
  • Acquire technology that conforms to local government state and federal rules, policies, and/or regulations.

Taylor explains that local governments typically adhere to adopted purchase ordinances. “It’s important to understand what processes are required (for example, is a public offering or RFP required? Is city council approval needed?). Additionally, it is important to research vendors to understand their qualifications for the service or product that is needed.”

Taylor says there are several best practices that should be considered when purchasing technology. “A government must follow a rigorous procurement process in line with the procurement regulations adopted by that government. Adhering to a rigorous purchasing process is vital to demonstrating to a government’s constituents that public funds are being used in the most efficient way possible.”

He adds that the government must rely on a project management standard, such as Scrum, PMBOK, IPMA or PRINCE2 to help ensure a successful technology purchase. “Adhering to a project management standard is not only beneficial to the procurement process itself, but also to the overall success of a project. Using a project management standard provides project stakeholders with a common methodology to follow when purchasing hardware and software. The project schedule dictates the need and not sooner, which could lead to storage issues and contract execution delays, false starts, or startup failures.”

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Taylor has more than 27 years of IT leadership experience. He has worked for the California cities of Manhattan Beach, Long Beach, Santa Monica and in private industry before coming to Fremont. He says several job titles would be a good fit for a city’s tech buying team. On the information technology side, Taylor suggests that local governments include the following in their technology procurement kits:

  • Member(s) of the division from which the technology will be supported (for example, business systems, geographic information system, infrastructure services, etc.)
    • Member(s) responsible for assisting with the procurement process (administrative)
    • Member(s) of the cybersecurity team
    • Head of Department
    • Other interested parties
    • Project leaders from other local government departments that will use the technology

Taylor says Fremont city managers rely on the information technology services department for technology acquisitions. “They work together with the requesting departments to review the technology purchasing needs.”

Several essential skills must be present among team members, says Taylor. “Skills needed include project management, cybersecurity knowledge, experience with the procurement process, as well as specific local government rules and regulations.” She adds that members of the technology buying team should have functional expertise depending on the specific acquisition. Additionally, team members should have budgeting and general accounting experience.

Taylor says it’s crucial for cities to conduct internal training so shoppers understand the city’s purchasing ordinances and available tools. “Here at Fremont, internal buyer training is the prerogative of the finance department, purchasing division. That said, the information technology services department adheres to the City of Fremont Purchasing Procedures (Administrative Regulations 3.1 [A.R. 3.1]).” Regulation AR 3.1 provides guidance on the contracting method and procurement procedures to be followed based on the cost of the project. The categories are:

  • Minor projects ($5,000 or less)
  • Informal bidding (more than $5,000 up to $25,000)
  • Formal Bidding (over $25,000)
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City regulations have additional requirements for contracts over $100,000.

Taylor says cooperative purchasing agreements can be used effectively to acquire technology. He says his team relies on cooperative contracts for most common telecommunications services, networks and server hardware. His team also uses his agency’s Microsoft Enterprise Agreement (Microsoft EA) underwriting cooperation agreements for Microsoft products.

In Fremont, Taylor says cooperative purchasing agreements have saved time and resources for public purchasing staff and city departments. “By taking advantage of cooperative agreements, the city has significantly reduced our budget spending to between 20 and 50 percent of the list price for technology.”

The public sector of OMNIA Partners offers cooperation agreements that allow local governments to acquire the necessary technology. This site highlights cooperative contracts for new products and solutions, including IT.

Michael Keating is a senior editor at United States city and county. Contact him at [email protected].

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