State CIOs to vendors: "Don't waste my time"

While managing multiple agencies, addressing citizens' needs, answering politicians' questions and finessing tight budgets, state and local chief information officers are finding that vendors often get in the way.

As the lead official for integrating information technology in a state, city or county, local CIOs often handle as many challenges and initiatives as their federal counterparts. Commercial solutions and services are critical, and many CIOs want to enhance their industry partnerships to make the most of shrinking resources.

However, CIOs nationwide say vendors need to learn about the state and local market before they try to sell services.

Often, it seems that vendors "haven't done the homework," said Gerry Wethington, Missouri's CIO. They haven't checked the governor's priorities, much less the IT strategy or budget. They simply market a new technology that often doesn't serve to meet the state's goals. The strategy may occasionally hit a target, but in the meantime, it diverts the attention of the CIO, who already has a long list of tasks to accomplish.

"You can't come in and waste my time," Wethington said.

This is not an isolated problem. Rock Regan, CIO for Connecticut, said he has cut down on meetings with vendors. State and local CIOs such as Regan want more from vendors than a straight pitch. Even if he likes the presentation, Regan said he may not be able to sign a contract because the state's budget does not include funding for the technology.

"It's not always, in the first meeting, about trying to sell something," he

said. Rather, vendors should build a relationship so that when funds are available, the groundwork has been established,

he said.

Vendors need more complete knowledge of how a state or city spends IT money if they want to form a lasting relationship, said David Sullivan, CIO of Virginia Beach, Va.

The city is committed to building and maintaining technology capabilities. Officials have applied most of the IT budget into the city's infrastructure for the past three years, Sullivan said.

However, although the number of IT projects under way there has increased from a little more than 20 to almost 110 since 2002, the number of projects on hold has grown from one or two to almost 40, he said.

Sullivan said several senior members of the Virginia Beach IT staff can make purchases and sign contracts without seeking approval from the office's CIO.

Even though Sullivan has told vendors who has the necessary authority, they continue to approach him for meetings to discuss contracts, he said. They do so even after they have already met with the staff that leads a particular area and has authority to make a purchase from the vendor. He said that wastes his time, his staff's time and the vendor's time.

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