California CIO: 5 Tips to Win State Contracts

California state CIO J. Clark Kelso told government VARs attending GovernmentVAR's State and Local Roadshow in Sacramento that when it comes to winning IT business from the state, size doesn't matter. What California and other state governments are looking for often isn't the billion dollar IT vendor or integrator, but rather small nimble solution providers that have expertise in applications such as server consolidation and virtualization, web redesign and document management.

With currently 13 California state IT contracts over $10 million and 11,500 under $500,000 there's plenty of room for solution providers of all stripes to cash in. Here are five tips for wining IT business from the state that Kelso gave to solution providers.

1. Learn the state's overall IT strategy and map your solutions to fit the goals.

Kelso said knowing where the state is going with its IT infrastructure helps VARs structure targeted solutions that IT managers can use to solve their problems. The best place to learn the state's grand IT plan is to visit its eServices website Another helpful site is the Department of Technology Services

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2. Get to know departmental CIOs.

Kelso said that dealing with the state is not that different from working with the private sector. "People buy from people," he said. With 50 percent of California's IT workforce eligible to retire soon, each of the state's 45 departmental IT managers is scrambling over how to modernize systems while keeping existing infrastructure operational. What's more, CIOs have broad discretionary powers to fund smaller IT projects in their departments without putting the deals out to bid.

3. Don't use the term outsourcing when dealing with state.

Kelso warned that the term "outsourcing" is a lightning rod for trouble with civil service unions. Instead he says VARs should couch their proposals by saying, "This is how I can help the state by providing services." As he explains, "I don't use the word 'outsourcing.' We just source."

4. Go green with your proposals.

"Green is good," says Kelso. California and many other states are rapidly mandating green, eco-friendly initiatives. If you can frame server consolidation and virtualization in terms of energy cost savings, for example, you'll be way ahead of the competition.

5. Partner with state IT retirees.

VARs can get better access to what's going on within state departments if they partner with recent IT retirees. Many retire and form their own consulting firms. They have intimate knowledge of the IT needs within their former departments. And more importantly, they have strong relationships with former colleagues. "I'll return their calls," Kelso says of recent state CIO retirees.


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