Purchasing technology requires different mindsets and skillsets than other types of procurements. Consider the parking meter, a staple of municipal governments.

Marcheta Gillespie, director of procurement at Tucson, Ariz.’s Department of Procurement, says procurement teams need to be aware of the opportunities that might be possible through new technology.

“An agency may have no issue with conventional parking meters. However, when approached by solution providers with a parking app, they may realize the efficiencies, revenue opportunities and boosts to community service that exist by moving to that new app.” Gillespie asks, “How do we embrace the opportunities before we know they are out there in our old models? We don’t. We have to change our model.”

Personnel and processes are key in technology buys, and it’s crucial that procurement teams have the right makeup when they make these purchases. And yet, trained staff is leaving. Phil Bertolini, the CIO for Oakland County, Mich., says that the brain drain among his IT staffers is keeping him awake at night. Bertolini's photo is to the right.

“Thirty percent of our skillsets are going to retire in the next three years," he says. What are we going to do to fill the void when we don’t have that many skilled, trained candidates out there to choose from? It’s going to be a tough next several years in recruiting and retaining good-quality IT talent.”

A recent report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) mirrors Bertolini’s views at the state level. Forty percent of NASCIO survey respondents say that 11-20 percent of their state IT employees will be eligible for retirement in the next year. Twenty-two percent of respondents say that 21-30 percent of their state IT employees will be eligible for retirement in the next year. The 2015 NASCIO report, “State IT Workforce: Facing Reality with Innovation,” has the survey data that spotlights the coming IT workforce brain drain in state governments.

CIO offices in state government are partnering with universities and the private sector to recruit and retain qualified personnel, says Meredith Ward, a senior policy analyst at NASCIO. She says that state governments can stay innovative and aware of new technology if they are successful in maintaining a qualified and adaptable workforce. NASCIO has researched state workforce trends extensively at this site.

For technology buys, procurement workforces need to be focused, says Gillespie of Tucson (photo to the left). “We need to train our contracting staff to become more specialized in the IT industry and how to buy procurement technology. We should seek to hire IT buyers who bring a combined background of procurement and IT,” Gillespie explains. She adds that those kinds of IT hires may not be a slam-dunk. “It’s not an easy feat, particularly when we look at our pay structures in government,” she says.

It’s important that procurement departments train their IT buyers and immerse them in technology, Gillespie adds. “We need to send them to conferences and get them engaged with the IT professionals. Departments also need to invest in developing their expertise.”

Using agencies are leaning on procurement departments, Gillespie says. “More and more, I find our client departments are relying upon us to be more ‘experts’ than ‘generalists’ in the more complex procurements. So, we must rise to that challenge and prepare our staff for those opportunities.”