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Government CIO launches IT shared services marketplace

A shared technology services marketplace, like the one recently implemented by Oakland County, Mich., offers a variety of benefits to governments constrained by tight budgets, including more affordable prices for services and interesting opportunities to analyze data.

For small to midsize government organizations, it can be tough to find enough money in the budget to utilize advanced technologies. Despite a national economy that is picking up steam, budgets for small government entities are so tight that even a pay-as-you-go technology like cloud computing can strain resources. But Oakland County, Mich., is working on a solution that not only makes technology more affordable, but also makes the procurement process much easier, enabling small to midsize governments to stay current in their use of technology.

"One of the problems and one of the reasons why small governments don't use bigger technologies is they can't afford the initial expense to buy them and then they can't really afford ongoing operating expenses," said Phil Bertolini, deputy executive and CIO for Oakland County.

To solve this problem, Bertolini and Oakland County created the G2G Marketplace. Launched in September 2014, the G2G Marketplace is essentially an online store that simplifies and speeds up the technology buying and licensing process for small and midsize government entities by vetting vendors on price and negotiating contracts.

Phil BertoliniPhil Bertolini

Vendors are asked to participate in the G2G Marketplace and chosen through a competitive bid, Bertolini said. Once negotiations are completed by Bertolini and his team, the contracts and offerings are put into the marketplace for others to use as well.

The marketplace cuts "months and months and months out of the procurement process," Bertolini said. And the more people use an offering, the more the price goes down for everyone else as well.

So far, the G2G Marketplace, which is free for use by U.S. governments, includes five vendors with products ranging from cybersecurity offerings from AT&T and RazorThreat to cloud services from Kronos. More vendors are expected to join.

The concept has already proven popular. Since its launch, 190 government organizations from 44 different states have signed up in the marketplace. Although right now Oakland County has negotiated all the contracts offered in the marketplace, Bertolini hopes that will change and that soon other governments will get more involved, share any offerings and contracts they are using, and therefore provide more offerings in the marketplace.

G2G makes governments more nimble IT providers

Robert MontgomeryRobert Montgomery

For Robert Montgomery, CIO at Oakland Community College in Michigan, the G2G Marketplace has been a boon. He said he definitely feels the strain of having a tight budget "especially these days in Michigan when the economy is still struggling to get off the ground," he said. But the affordable offerings are just one benefit of the marketplace. The other benefit is that being part of the marketplace means he can "get to the act of doing business faster," because the county has already done the due diligence in evaluating the vendors and negotiating the contracts so that the participants of the marketplace don't have to, Montgomery said.

The fact that a shared marketplace like the G2G Marketplace in Oakland County allows governments to do "more with less" is important, Jennifer Belissent, a principal analyst at Forrester who focuses on the public sector, said. "People are really concerned about … what governments are spending and where [citizens'] taxes are going."

Jennifer BelissentJennifer Belissent

The offerings Oakland Community College's Montgomery is using from the marketplace are giving him the ability to do things he wasn't able to do before. He is in the midst of implementing GovDelivery's Communication Cloud, a cloud-based messaging platform and bulk email provider. With 25,000 students, alumni and employees, the systems the college has in place now are not able to handle sending messages and information out in bulk, but GovDelivery will make it possible for them to do that, Montgomery said. GovDelivery also offers subscription services so that people can pick and choose what specific information they would like to receive from the college, he added.

"We're very much looking forward to that because it will make the information we do send more effective at reaching the intended audience, so we're not just spamming people by sending information out in large quantities to people who may not want to receive it," Montgomery said.

In addition to purchasing GovDelivery through the marketplace, Montgomery said the college is also using IT services the county provides, mainly space in the county's data center in order to back up their records.

"Now could I have gotten that through someone else? Yeah, I could go buy floor space somewhere," Montgomery said. "[But] I really like doing business with [the county] because we're birds of a feather, we're both public institutions, and I don't know that I could find that in another place."

Shared services paves way for better security, data analytics

The G2G shared marketplace is also functioning as a brain trust for smaller governments, providing, for example, best practices, tips and a cybersecurity assessment tool.

"Governments are always concerned about their cybersecurity and many of them get approached by cybersecurity companies to do assessments for them, but they're all worried that they're just trying to sell them something," Bertolini said. The G2G cybersecurity assessment can be downloaded in a PDF format. "They take the assessment, they find out their needs, and then they can go off and find products that can help them."

Having government entities, within a state or across states, share technology services and best practices can also lay the foundation for projects that benefit the public, said Forrester's Belissent.

For example, the state of Indiana is using SAP's data management system High-Performance Analytic Appliance to sift through data from government entities such as the Department of Health and the Family and Social Services Administration in order to try to better understand why the state has a high infant mortality rate and find a solution.

Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming are all using HCL America Inc.'s cloud-based solution to modernize their unemployment insurance services, she said.

"They're all on the same platform, data that's being generated from the applications are all in the same formats, so they can do a lot of interesting things around data capture and analysis and comparative analytics [state by state]," Belissent said, citing fraud protection as an example. "You can do some interesting things in terms of fraud protection because you've got a much larger, big, database of transactions to explore."

Not only can this help governments detect and prevent fraud, it can also help them figure out where they should focus their resources. For example, with Indiana's big data initiative to solve the state's infant mortality problem, rather than thinly spread programs and resources to help communities, the state can analyze the data, pinpoint which towns or counties have the most deaths, and then focus their programs and resources on those areas, Belissent said.

"It's one of those projects that you enjoy because there's always a good thing that comes out of it," Bertolini said. "When you have a win-win for everyone involved you can't help but [feel] good."

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