Digital Services Procurement Check List: Stability Required, Fly-by-Night Need Not Apply

How can government accelerate digital transformation by buying better?

Jeff Hamilton

3 Minutes

November 9, 2021

A hot topic these days, and a source fuelling many discussions in and around the world in the public sector space; how government can accelerate digital transformation by buying better.

If we take that conversation one step further, let's identify a small list of topics frequently overlooked by government procurement that really should be a part of the evaluation and scoring process.

Digital transformation as a priority.

Unfortunately, today we see some vendors saying anything to win business, whether it be in the public sector or private. Some vendors spin up a great website and use their global clout and power to portray skills and capabilities that do not really exist below the surface. Others, bid to win business and then try and figure out how to fulfill their commitment on the fly, inventing their process at full speed. No risk there, right? It is imperative for procurement to rethink how they score vendors, and one of the leading areas that should be focused on - ensuring a vendor has 100% focus and priority on digital services expertise.

A digital evolution, not a revolution.

Digital transformation requires iterative improvement, not disruptive innovation. An experienced vendor expands on what works to make a sustainable impact through a process of incremental successes. A process with a “dare to try” approach, but based on evidence, means a vendor can move fast, change things, regroup, then re-approach based on facts and succeed. A digital formula that includes; evidence + low risk policy + ethics = meaningful outcome.

Today, a uninformed minimum viable product (MVP) is no longer acceptable. Each minimum viable change needs to be built right, on time and on budget. When the digital formula is applied, the return on investment (ROI) becomes very compelling. The vendor productivity becomes 10X. If you run a procurement process, what would you rather have? A final product that takes 15 shots at completion, resulting in an MVP, or a final product that takes 4 great shots through a digital formula that exceeds expectations? At Button we call the latter Minimum Lovable Products not just because 4 great shots are cheaper but because the end result is a product that delights users.

Data & science matter.

The process of creating a digital services outcome doesn’t just happen once a vendor is selected as a provider. It is critical that a solution be created based on the core foundation of accountability based on data & science. In an agile environment, multidisciplinary teams need to work in parallel with policy development to exceed the highest standards of usability and security, delivering projects on time and within budget.

Without a foundation of data and science in place, it becomes challenging to deliver solutions that are transparent, scalable, and value-driven. Data and science are directly related to creating meaningful outcomes that are actionable, for government and its citizens.

Ethics as part of design and implementation.

Being focused on projects that provide a real and meaningful impact matters and this should be clear in a portfolio of work any vendor uses as a reference. Deeper due diligence should be a critical step for procurement to take in their evaluation. The days of simple reference questions such as “did the vendor deliver” or “was the vendor on time and within budget” are over. Procurement specialists must dig below the surface to understand the value delivered, how a solution has impacted their organization internally and externally, and what the real and meaningful impact of the solution was. Without being focused on the greater good, vendors will simply play the game within the game of an RFP.

Vendors need to display a proven record of going above and beyond and that comes down to the ethics of their people and how they operate as a business. Building ethics into design and implementation, combining code and public good, that’s what it should be about.

Measurable bang for your buck.

In the procurement process, a vendor needs to be more than just a “buy” or commodity. Questions that procurement professionals should be asking are, “how can you take our budget further” and “how can your team produce results at 2X, 5X, or 10X beyond industry standards”. In the procurement dance, an RFP or buying process is loaded with clauses, legal detail, and unfortunately all too often, verbiage that has been influenced by interested vendors to better position their organization in the selection process. The end result, a meaningful solution is not delivered. Instead, it is simply a solution that meets the minimum expectations detailed and documented legally.

If government wants more bang for their buck, it's time to evaluate at a deeper level and expect more from their chosen vendor. To evolve the procurement process with scoring that means more and digs below the surface can and will deliver those 5X or 10X results beyond industry standards and weed out vendors who don’t care about making a difference.

Remember, a procurement process focused on scoring that does not lead to a meaningful result or impact, ends up as a race to the bottom for vendors, and everyone loses in this situation.