Make paper work for you
I hate paperwork! I despise excessive paperwork! Every time I see a pile of papers, I hear a noise in the background. It’s the sound of the nameless Egyptian who created sheets of papyrus by pounding them together and letting them dry in the sun. Or it could be Ts’ai Lun, who, around 3,000 years later, took the inner bark of the mulberry tree and plant fibers and pounded them into a paste that, when dried, became an early form of paper. They both spin in their respective graves whenever excessive paperwork rears its ugly head.
Frankly, it could be worse. We could be the Sumerians, who communicated on heavy clay tablets baked in the sun. Imagine your next bid response on clay tablets and try to figure out how to keep them in your contract files.
Government tried to regulate excessive paperwork with the landmark Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, which merely created more paperwork and a separate office of government responsible for the reduction of the very paperwork that the act was supposed to reduce. To get an idea of just how well the Paperwork Reduction Act is working, look at the number of attachments that you need to supply for your annual income tax forms—and the excessive postage required to send this documentation to the IRS.
We in procurement are just as guilty, and our professional organizations and bidders follow suit. Think of the mass quantities of information that you receive on a weekly basis via e-mail, fax or paper mail. How much of that correspondence constitutes a truly necessary use of paper?
And yes, there is an environmental consideration. And yes, I know that some paper has a recycled content. Think of the environment as one more incentive to cut down on our paperwork. Let’s save some trees!
My point is that we spend too much time asking for paperwork that is unnecessary to achieve our primary goal—acquiring goods and services for our employer. Technology is supposed to reduce our dependence on paperwork. Unfortunately, I think we have a long way to go before this is fully accomplished.
Next time you receive RFPs in your office, consider the long lines of deliverymen that bring boxes of paperwork to you—one for each member of your evaluation team, and one “specimen” copy for the master file. The deliverymen line up like so many caravans on the Silk Road to Samarkand. You can use technology to reduce paperwork. Just ask for what you need to make your initial decision and save the rest of the information request for those on your short list, or for the lowest bidder.
Let’s make two assumptions here. One, you need all this information from only one source—the low bidder. However, you need to retain the ability to get the information from all bidders, as they have the potential for an award. Two, all information at the bid-response stage can be sent electronically. I know that not all procurement regulations allow that at the moment, but it’s a flaw in our system that some of us have to live with. If it were me bringing it to the attention of lawmakers, I’d simply tell them that such flawed regulations only add to the cost of doing business and that we pay a premium for paperwork by not allowing it to be transmitted electronically.
We need information from our bidders. We need technical information about their products and services. We need commercial information regarding their companies to test them for responsibility. Consider asking bidders to have the information available in electronic form and sent to you within 24 hours of your request. Just about everything is available in electronic form, from material safety data sheets to technical specifications to financial reports to certifications. If you have a required form for bidders, make it user-friendly, tell them what software they need to complete it and mask the form so they comply with your requirements—don’t change the form to suit the bidders’ purposes. It can be done; we have the technology to do it.
Talk to your IT departments and ask them how they can store and secure information sent to you as part of the bid process. Find out how you can send information quickly to your clients and how you can communicate with your bidders.
Think about teleconferencing on the Web instead of sending information via paper. Be creative, share your ideas, reduce your paperwork, save time and keep your desk clean (it’s the sign of an uncluttered mind). Find other ways to reduce your paperwork load. Share these strategies with your colleagues.
Start a trend. Who knows? You might just wind up a footnote to history, like the unknown Egyptian or Ts’ai Lun.
About the author
Frederick Marks, CPPO, VCO (Virginia contracting officer), is a retired purchasing officer who has held positions as a supervising buyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as director of material management for Northern Virginia Community College. Contact Marks at [email protected]