Is Google’s recent suit against DOI based more on an entitlement mindset or a misguided understanding of transparency?

Posted on November 2, 2010

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“The process for winning government contracts is truly based on the ability of a supplier to legitimately and transparently win preference with government buyers.”

Judy Bradt, Washington-based expert author whose new book discusses her more than 20 years helping 6,000 clients to win in excess of $300 million in U.S. Government contracts

It never ceases to amaze me when a supplier cries foul in terms of the government bid process claiming unfair, or in the case of Google relative to the DOI awarding a contract to Microsoft, “unduly restrictive of competition.”  One cannot help but wonder if such outcries are rooted in a false entitlement mindset or, a misguided understanding of transparency.

Let’s face it, and in line with Bradt’s winning preference with government buyers statement referenced above, whether in the public or private sectors people ultimately buy from someone they know, like and trust . . . period!

Anyone who has competed for and won large contracts understand this underlying principal, and the corresponding realization that “Transparency is not the holding fast to the illusion of a level playing field, but is achieved through a clear understanding of the layout of the field itself.”

On many occasions, including during my presentations on transparency in the government procurement process in which I include the above quote, I try to drive the know, like and trust concept home as early in the talk as possible.

In conjunction with another point of sage advice from Bradt who stresses that “waiting until an RFP/RFQ is issued is like showing up at the starting line of a long race without training and expecting to win,”  relationships in which there is a well established, confident rapport shape the decision-making process long before an RFQ is actually released for bidding.  This is especially true as the cost and complexity of the goods or services being acquired exponentially increase.  Or as I like to put it, when I go to the corner store to buy a carton of milk, I do not really care if I know or like the person behind the counter, I just want to make sure that the milk is fresh.  However, if I am purchasing a house or looking for a new dentist, you can be darn sure that I am going to want to not only have a rapport with the person in whose abilities I will be relying, but also like and trust them.

The time to start building this level of relationship is not during the response to bid process.  Unfortunately, this is the mistake that most vendors make, as they consider the issuance of an RFQ as the starting point in terms of pursuing government contracts, thereby ignoring what Bradt calls “the five critical pre-RFQ tasks that enable bidders to win true preference status.”

Within this reality framework, the real issue with the Google complaint has little to do with an exclusionary practice on the part of the government, and more to do with the company’s inability to effectively build the necessary know, like and trust rapport that creates the confidence in their ability to deliver a solution that meets the buyer’s requirements.

This is a linchpin issue as illustrated in a comment by Karen Evans during a Roundtable discussion on government transparency.  Evans, who was the U.S. Federal Government’s CIO under the Bush Administration overseeing in excess of $70 billion in IT spend during her tenure, highlighted the fact that one of the key differences between how transparency is viewed in the private sector versus the public sector originates in the reporting hierarchy.

The fact is that within the private sector Evans stressed, “your board is a known quantity that share common interests such as market share, profitability and stock value.”  Even though “opinion regarding the best route to achieve the desired results may differ, the goals are ultimately much clearer and less convoluted by partisan or regional interests.”

“This of course is a factor in the public sector” the CIO continued, as the public sector board is the “535 people in the House of Representatives in the Senate, where jurisdictional interests and competing priorities contribute, at least in part, to the risk averse lens through which transparency is viewed.”

“This aversion to risk, in essence exposing oneself to open criticism in the pages of say the Washington Post” according to Evans, “prevents people from the taking the kind of necessary risks that are required to improve services.”

In other words, it is not the features, functions and benefits overview of a particular product or service that counts but, the relationship building process that establishes the necessary trust in said benefits so as to substantially reduce and even eliminate the risk to which Evans has referred.

Or to put it more succinctly, Google should spend less time with their head in the product cloud, and more time on the ground building meaningful relationships that replace fear, uncertainty and doubt “FUD,” with a know, like and trust value proposition.

In the meantime, here is the link to my Keynote audio/PowerPoint keynote address in Washington, as well as the resulting white paper from the Roundtable discussion on Transparency in the Government Procurement Process.  (NOTE: you can also listen to the on-demand broadcast “LIVE EVENT FEED: 3rd Annual Business of Government Summit (Day 1, Roundtable)” in which the guest panel included Evans, IACCM CEO Tim Cummins, Judy Bradt and 30 plus year public sector veteran and author of the Towards Tesco – improving public sector procurement paper Colin Cram.)

Also check out our 7-Part Jump Start Government Contract series with Judy Bradt, which aired earlier this year on the PI Window on Business Show on Blog Talk Radio.

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