This year is the first that I am participating in judging the annual Government in Technology Week (GTEC) awards. GTEC, an IT conference for Canada’s public sector, recognizes the best IT projects across all levels of government in a number of categories.

I have to admit I was surprised by

what I came across, because I hadn’t heard about more than a handful of them.

There’s a section in the submission form that asks if the project has received any media coverage. Few, other than the ones having the most obvious impact on the majority of Canadian citizens, have ever received any acknowledgement outside their own little sphere of influence. Tellingly, one submission answered this question by saying the project had managed to avoid media coverage so far.

After recovering from a good chuckle, I realized that response says a lot about the way the public sector perceives the role of publicity and the media in general.

Why should you care? First of all, it’s clear that your IT company clients are doing a ton of business with the public sector that’s still pretty much under the radar. The government has only recently come to terms with the fact that its citizens want the same standard of service they get from the private sector, and it will be years before that transformation to becoming fully citizen-centric is complete, so don’t expect them to take the lead on making their efforts more visible. And the public sector, whose IT failures have been trumpeted far and wide, is understandably reticent about taking such a risk, which is why some see it as a positive thing to have avoided media coverage.

That means it’s still up to you to educate your client’s government customers about the value of telling their story to the media.

Some IT firms, such as Microsoft, are more successful than others at this game, probably due to the considerable clout it wields in the marketplace and the incentives it is able to offer its customers for participating in media interviews.

As I pointed out earlier, I was surprised by the number of projects I hadn’t heard about because the ITBusiness group covers a huge number of government IT stories each year. Those stories, however, represent only a fraction of the pitches and press releases we get related to public sector IT projects. We don’t cover more of them partly due to staffing issues, but also due to the fact that more often than not, the PR person pitching the story can’t line up the government user, resulting in great frustration for pretty much everyone, except, maybe the government client, who still doesn’t see it as important. At that point, it’s game over.

The Canadian federal government was expected to spend more than $5 billion on IT products and services in 2004/05, and $810 million in strategic investments and ideas and enabling technologies over the next five years to promote research and new technologies.

The private sector has obviously chosen to pursue media coverage in lieu of spending advertising dollars. And we still need good stories.

It’s a match made in heaven. All we need is someone willing to introduce the parties.

ksibley@itbusiness.ca
Kathleen Sibley is the editor of Technology in Government.

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