Technology procurement is one of the most tedious and time-consuming processes one has to go through as it involves a great deal of planning, logistics, and regulatory compliances, among many others to ensure a smooth process.
That being said, government tech procurement, however, is on another level. If normal tech procurement processes take about 7 months or so to complete, it can take 3x as long in the government setting. This is true not only in the United States but also in different parts of the world.
In fact, a survey conducted by Gartner of 1,120 executives and 79 public sector employees across the US, Canada, France, Germany, the UK, Australia, and Singapore, revealed that the average buying cycle for government entities is almost two years, or 22 months to be exact.
Why does government tech procurement take so long? There are a few reasons why:
The complexity of procurement laws - Technology acquisition in the public sector brings a unique set of challenges that do not commonly exist in other industries. One such challenge is that each jurisdiction has its own procurement laws and policies, and within that, each agency or department can have its own interpretation of them. And any instance of failure to conform to the rules can have serious consequences, from unwanted publicity to personal risk of prosecution.
Large teams involved – A typical team in the public sector is composed of at least 12 people with varying levels of participation. So when the team initiates the procurement process, it has to take into account the sentiment and specific tech needs of each member.
Lesser involvement from the C-level - C-level executives in the public sector tends to be less involved in the technology procurement process compared to their counterparts in the private sector. That is primarily because they want to avoid the perception of political influence in the process that could put the procurement process at risk. On the flip side, this also means they would be less willing (if not unwilling at all) to defend the procurement if challenges against it were made, like from those who did not get the procurement contract.
The inability of providers to fulfill certain requirements and specifications – This is actually a more common cause for procurement delay across all sectors. And the details of each specification and ensuring the requirements are met are crucial in technology.
Need for additional research and evaluation – Government tends to work on limited budgets for projects and other activities. And while budgets for government projects and processes tend to be approved beforehand during annual budget deliberation in the legislature, there are unexpected expenses that may be incurred along the way and if such problems occur, this would require a more lengthy than usual review from the government agency in charge of budget allocation before the additional funds can be released.
There have been efforts by governments to improve the procurement process that their agents have to go through. Still, more work needs to be done, especially as other governments may not even put procurement process improvements as part of their priorities. In the meantime, those that would have to deal with the government and its slow tech procurement process must exercise a greater deal of patience and make use of the lengthy time to improve their own processes and boost their productivity.