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Government buyers take 22 months on average to procure tech

Teams too big, operate in silos, lack subject matter experts and C-suite exec buy-in

Public sector technology buyers have the lengthiest average buying cycle of any industry vertical in part due to a lack of vendor specific information on products often hampering the decision making process.

According to a survey of 1,120 executives Gartner interviewed in November and December, including 79 from the government space, the typical time it takes to make a purchase is 22 months.

Almost half of the respondents claimed six or more delays when buying tech, with the cumulative consequence of these factors, including repeated changes in the scope of the project, adding seven months to the entire undertaking.

"Technology acquisition brings challenges to the public sector that do not commonly exist in other industries," said Dean Lacheca, Vice President Analyst at the market watcher.

"Each jurisdiction has its own procurement laws and policies, and within that, each agency or department can have its own interpretation of them. A failure to conform to the rules can have serious consequences, from unwanted publicity to personal risk of prosecution," he added.

One of the issues identified by Gartner is that public sector procurement teams can be large and complex, with on average 12 individuals with varying levels of participation in the process – so it may be a case of too many cooks spoiling the specification or pulling the project in different directions.

This is perhaps compounded by the lack of senior personnel buy-in as 44 percent of respondents said C-level executives were less involved in tech purchasing in the public sector compared to 55 percent in the private sector.

This, said Gartner, is to steer clear of association with the buying process and avoid "creating the perception of political influence in the outcome." This flip side, however, is that these same C-suite folk are less "willing to defend the process if challenged by unsuccessful vendors or the media."

Disputes between government departments and agencies certainly seem more high profile than those between the tech set and the commercial sector, including protests by AWS and others in the long-running and now defunct Department of Defense JEDI procurement.

Based on its findings, Gartner reckons buying teams in central and local government are also more likely to be comprised of lower level operational staff that then try to take on the role of "business subject matter expert."

"While the government equivalents of a C-level executive or executive governance body may have the authority to make the decision, they are heavily guided by the evaluation results and recommendations made by the subject matter experts," said Gartner.

So what are the causes of these significant delays? Some of the big hold-ups to procurement often happen before the buying process even starts with 74 percent of respondents citing developing the business case, 76 percent blaming scope changes that necessitate additional research and evaluation, and 75 percent said the bottleneck is centered on agreeing budgets.

Lacheca said government purchase cycles can be long. However, "it is important to note that these time frames are not set." He added: "Initial planned timelines can be delayed as a result of a combination of both controllable and uncontrollable factors, especially when no external deadlines exist."

Some 68 percent of those surveyed said delays were based around buyers not being able to get hold of relevant information from vendors. Public sector entities are more likely to find value in references from existing clients than private sector buyers and this is because public sectors are less often in direct competition.

Perhaps Gartner should turn its attention to the build up of technical debt in the public sector, which seems to be a disproportionate problem, at least in the UK and US. The UK spends half of its multibillion-pound IT budget on keeping the lights on maintenance, and in the US the majority of the $100bn spent on tech in fiscal 2021 was for operating and maintaining existing tech, including legacy systems. ®

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