Improving Government Procurement

How to accelerate digital transformation by buying better

Rachel Greenspan

5

July 26, 2021

Public sector procurement is due for an overhaul. Complex procurements can take months, if not years, to plan, and the resulting process can often feel rigid, opaque, and proscriptive.

But a larger problem that compounds these issues: an outdated procurement process that isn’t maximizing value delivered for taxpayer dollars.  

That process is long overdue for innovation. At Button, we found a better way.  

Don’t build a tool, build a toolkit

The traditional government procurement process, when simplified, looks like this:  

  1. Identify the problem  
  1. Procure a highly specialized team to fix that problem

This worked okay in the past, but it has significant drawbacks. First, not enough time has been spent to identify the correct approach to the problem. As a result, the people doing the hiring don’t necessarily know the tools they need to solve the problem. Second, this process implies that the tool is all that matters, not the toolkit.  

Button’s business (“building reliable digital services for government”) is built around people. We believe the best approach is a high-performing, multidisciplinary, and flexible team that can adaptively address a variety of problems far into the future, rather than just one problem today.  

We hire for people who can think critically and adapt. We don’t just build teams around a hyper-specific skill set or narrow definition of success, and we’re not looking for specific tools—but a widely applicable toolkit.

Innovative, agile procurement vehicles allow us to iterate alongside government—failure is an option, and both negatives and positive benefits can be evaluated as part of the process. This maximizes business outcomes by forming close collaboration between business experts, end users, and private sector suppliers, like us.  

Procurement innovation also increases opportunities for small and medium sized business to work with government, expanding the array of creative solutions that government has to choose from. We think that’s pretty great too!  

A flexible team serves everyone better

Digital transformation projects are inherently complex, and subject to ever changing technology and business needs. A flexible and multidisciplinary team offers the most effective partnership between vendors and the public sector. They can:

  • Achieve an outsized impact
  • Better understand the business requirements
  • Design better solutions
  • Deliver more value to citizens
  • Ensure governments get a good return on their investment

A diverse team with multiple skill sets can assess a problem from multiple perspectives, and from this collaborative framework, generate potential solutions. Rather than being rigidly built for one specific task, this kind of team is equipped to nimbly address almost any scenario that might arise.  

A more flexible, long-term approach allows the government to hire resources internally on a longer-term and more deliberate basis. Then, empowered with that knowledge, the government can hire the right resources internally, for the benefit of everyone.  

This approach also deters a lifelong vendor lock-in, avoiding black box solutions that may effectively address one problem but serve no use beyond it. (A “black box” solution has an input and output with no transparency into its inner workings—which isn’t ideal for any government focused on transparency.)

How to enable iterative innovation

The last year has seen rapid acceleration in digital government in response to COVID-19. Strong vendor relationships played a big role in rapid delivery of digital services to citizens.  

We’re looking forward to continuing to work with our government partners to deliver procurement innovation that:

  • Engages users, suppliers, and decisionmakers, to identify the problem and propose innovative, creative, and inclusive solutions
  • Reduces risk for government, increasing confidence that they are procuring for the right team
  • Increases fairness and transparency, encouraging participating from small and medium sized businesses
  • Allows for Agile, iterative processes and adaptation as requirements change over time
  • Maximizes business value delivered to citizens

We believe firmly that procurement innovation is mandatory to support vibrant, inclusive communities and economic recovery.