Orange County workers at hub of innovation
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Vilifying public employees has been a hobby of some for more than a decade. Yet most of us recognize that public employees often deliver critical services that the private sector cannot or will not provide, or will only perform if exorbitant profits are virtually guaranteed and performance expectations are set inordinately low.
One area of outsourcing that in recent decades has resulted in more than its share of disasters for public agencies is information technology. As governments have attempted to keep up with ever-changing technology requirements, they have often turned to the private sector. An entire segment of the industry is populated by vendors specializing in contracting.
Employing a classic bait-and-switch sales technique, these outside contractors often lowball initial cost estimates, knowing that once a government agency has scaled down its own workforce and become captive, the contractor will be able to raise costs exponentially through revisions, change orders, extensions and maintenance agreements. With alarming frequency, these vendors have overpromised, underperformed and in the end failed to deliver a viable product.
Locally, we’ve suffered a series of outsourced IT project failures spanning more than two decades. Time and time again, outside contractors have promised but not delivered, costing the county millions of dollars and years of lost production. In just one recent county IT debacle, involving an American company that failed to perform, which was subsequently sold to a French company that failed to perform, the county ended up approving milestones in amendments to a contract that the supervisors admitted they didn’t believe the contractor would meet. Government should not use taxpayer dollars to roll the dice and bet against common sense and experience.
For many of us, this makes it particularly frustrating to encounter the radio silence that usually accompanies the stream of excellent outcomes public employees routinely achieve.
So today I want to provide some exposure to the “Golden Hub of Innovation Award,” presented this month by the Association of California Cities – Orange County, jointly to the County of Orange Information Technology Agency and to the County of Orange Procurement Office. The award was given for the in-house deployment of OC Expediter, an enterprise procurement application. Employees from OCIT and CPO collaborated to deconstruct the county’s outdated procurement process and to develop an IT solution that eliminates redundancies and dramatically reduces the risk of human error.
According to the county’s nomination summary, OC Expediter “uses the latest technology to replace previously paper-based requisition processes, and provides users with the ability to route, approve and process requisitions online.” The result has been a reduction in processing time of at least 75 percent and potential ongoing savings of almost $30,000 monthly. If the county had turned to the private sector for a solution, it estimated the cost of installation and configuration to have been approximately $3 million. Instead, by using county staff, the cost to taxpayers was a mere $110,000.
The “Golden Hub of Innovation Award” could be awarded every day to the thousands of county employees who regularly deliver innovative and outstanding service at a competitive cost. The value public service provides isn’t just one time, it’s all the time.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: June 24, 2016