Eye on the States: What's the big idea? You need to have one ? now

Thomas Davies

Tired of competing in these tough times? Is it rough making your company stand out in an increasingly crowded state and local market? Maybe it's time to gain an advantage over your competitors by capturing the strategic high ground.

You may be asking just where is the high ground these days. It's not where you may first think -- meaning the technology you're selling -- but rather with the big, innovative ideas you're helping to implement with your technology and services.

While state and local executives' eyes glaze over when they start to hear the pitch on the latest and greatest technology, they are all ears when it comes to compelling ideas that could help them out of a jam.

Take the case of shared-benefit contracting, in which the contractor puts its future payments at risk until the actual business results it promised are realized. American Management Systems Inc. pioneered this idea in the state tax market more than seven years ago. It led to hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for AMS. Since it was first introduced, shared-benefit contracting has spread to all levels of government and has been applied to just about every major program.

Or take the idea of re-inventing government. Re-invention moved like a tidal wave during the 1990s. Reputedly, the idea first originated in Arkansas when then-Gov. Bill Clinton presided over state government reform. Its impact among federal, state and local governments was big, and the amount of technology and related services sold to governments to assist them in implementing their re-invention initiatives was just as big.

Let's also consider self-service. This idea in state and local government dates back at least to the early 1980s, when IBM Corp. was marketing kiosk-based technology solutions. It was only later in the Internet era that self-service morphed into e-government. My guess is that when the Internet recedes into the background and the next wave of technology emerges, the concept of self-service will still drive what technology the states are buying.

Take a look around, and you'll see that the slowdown in state IT spending doesn't mean the industry market leaders are resting on their laurels.

Accenture Ltd. is actively promoting an intriguing new idea it calls a public-sector value model. It's a performance measurement system for government that is comparable to shareholder value in the private sector. Admittedly, this is a very difficult undertaking, but it's worth its weight in gold if Accenture can pull it off.

Not only does it focus on measuring the outcomes of government -- those things that you and I care about, such as crime rates and citizen satisfaction -- but also it measures government at an enterprise level. As a benchmark and decision-making tool, it allows governments, such as in Illinois, where Accenture is piloting the process, to measure their performance against themselves and their peers.

What better way to demonstrate to the governor and legislature just how much value a program is creating for citizens, and how it compares to other programs and peers.

So the next time you call on a senior-level executive in the state and local market, give some thought to what you leave behind. What big, compelling idea will they remember you by -- and then spread the news to their friends? *

Thomas Davies is senior vice president at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va. His e-mail address is tdavies@currentanalysis.com.

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