Let’s face it, the dialogue between government and ICT companies is often vexed and inefficient. Suppliers feel that government keeps its procurement cards too close to its chest, while CIOs come to resent the endless meetings with earnest folk fishing for leads and ‘strutting their stuff’. Effective dialogue is, however, in everyone’s interests. An innovative and timely proposal or technology briefing from a trusted supplier can add real value to a CIO’s strategy and planning. From the other side, some opportune information about an agency’s challenges and intentions can enable suppliers to build the right capabilities and put their best foot forward in proposals.
Here are my top five do’s for selling to CIOs:
• Do your homework - make pain your friend by studiously researching the publicly available information on each agency’s business imperatives, programmes, budgets, contracts, procurement plans, conference presentations and media commentary. It is often surprising the insights this jigsaw puzzle reveals.
• Do work the supplier network – find out about the agency’s ecosystem of suppliers and strategic products and meet with key non-competing suppliers before you meet the CIO. Less than half of all ICT procurement goes to full open tender, the rest being contract extensions and purchasing off-panel contracts. Some outsourcing deals allow the supplier to procure hardware, software and services on behalf of the agency, avoiding the need to go to market. Think about how you can partner with the incumbent suppliers.
• Do chase the money – he or she who has the money calls the shots. Make sure you understand who holds the budget authority and how much funding is in play. At the state government level this is usually transparent in the budget papers, with any project over one million dollars or so being identified in the budget. Once the funding has been allocated to a project director, you know the game is on. And don’t forget to ask this question if you have the opportunity; “how much is in the budget?”
• Do know the procurement rules – make sure you understand how to put forward a process-compliant proposal. First off to ensure your proposal is admissible, but more importantly to ensure you are able to advise your client on the 'most efficient' way to purchase your services. Don’t assume your clients themselves necessarily always know the best way through the procurement process maze.
• Do understand your ‘value-adding personality’ – select from my list of pre-defined personalities to take to your next CIO meeting:
St. Nicholas – the bearer of gifts… no, not corruption! I mean offering business insights and value-adds for free to show you are serious about a strategic relationship.
Honey Bee - the cross-pollinator of relevant and interesting ideas between jurisdictions, agencies, companies and luminaries.
Cupid – the maker of relationships and networks, the ‘joiner-of-dots’ to link the right people together and help them consummate their (business) relationships.
Pegasus – help the CIO wrestle with the contradictory tensions of e-government’s three-headed monster; joined-up cross-agency outcomes; agency-specific programme outputs; and people, process and technology inputs.
The Engineer – the builder of clever and robust business solutions, infrastructure and systems (the default personality).
Cannon Fodder – the absorber of risk and punishment to make things happen, by offering the capacity and commitment to just keep sending troops up over the parapet until the CIO’s target is achieved.
And here are my top five don’ts if you want to ensure a happy bonus result this year:
• Don’t lobby the Minister or Secretary without the CIO in the loop – this never works unless your aim is to get either yourself or the CIO sacked.
• Don’t fail to deliver – public sector CIOs tend to be a gossipy lot so word gets around of suppliers who fail to perform.
• Don’t fail to follow up every interaction – don’t assume that CIOs will remember anything about your meeting after you’ve left the room. They are busy people. Follow up on everything discussed with the CIO and his or her execs and chase down every lead.
• Don’t attempt to subvert the procurement process – short cuts and attempts to game or subvert due process usually end up creating grief for suppliers and their clients… and possibly Ministers as well… which usually then flows rapidly back down hill to CIOs… and thence the unhappy circle closes with suppliers.
• Don’t forget to ask your client to buy from you – sounds simple, but after all your good work as St. Nicholas, Cupid or Pegasus don’t forget to come back and ask them to buy from you!
Steve Hodgkinson is Ovum research director, public sector. Email comments to Divina Paredes
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