CIO OUTLOOK

Strategic partnerships benefit all involved

Mike Hale

State governments are beginning to behave more like companies in managing information technology. They are evaluating plans, policies and procurements against good business practices rather than existing rules, customs or traditions.

It is challenging to try to establish enterprisewide standards while keeping the advantages of competition. Many states have problems with inconsistent IT standards across multiple networked architectures that have high support costs and limited enterprise value. We must fix these problems to achieve greater value from IT.

Agencies need strategic partnerships with vendors so that together they can set governmentwide standards, then use those standards to improve systems interoperability. This is all possible without sacrificing competition among vendors. They understand the business value of long-term relationships.

But the concept raises hackles in agency inspector general and counsel offices where the legal eagles fear partnerships limit competition.

Strategic partnerships are more relevant today than at any time since the mainframe era, when data centers were so tightly wedded to IBM Corp. But we've learned from the mainframe experience. We now understand how to develop partnerships that add value to government without creating dependencies on our vendor partners.

What is a strategic vendor partnership? It is a relationship an agency develops with the intent of keeping a company as part of a team beyond the life of a single engagement.

The company will take part in plans, designs, standard-setting and systems development. A partner augments your staff, alerting you to problems and opportunities.

The best companies adopt and not mangle the values of your organization. They operate alongside competitors, collaborate and help advance your standards.

Finally, a partner keeps on top of competitive prices and products. Large agencies need strategic partners in telecommunications, network management, hardware and software, systems development and project management.

Unfortunately, purchasing law tends to block such partnerships. Yet state and local governments' needs are forcing changes in procurement regulations, as they have at the federal level. Given the rate of change in technology, government IT managers need on-site advisers who know their agencies' problems.

Strategic vendor partnership is not a different way to say outsourcing. But it acknowledges that although government managers direct the IT activities, they often lack the staff and salary structure needed to carry them out.

Businesses are also finding partners to help them navigate the uncertainties of fast-changing IT. We in government have the extra challenge of wresting the authority to build vendor partnerships from our legal types. I am finding that the more I push the issue, the more my legal counterparts are finding themselves able to think outside the box of traditional procurement regulations.


Mike Hale is chief information officer of Georgia. He previously was executive director of Florida's Information Resource Commission and is a retired Army colonel. His e-mail address is mhale@itpc.state.ga.us.

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