There’s more to procurement than price
Based on marketing materials it had previously received, the Police Department enlisted the services of Tempe, Ariz.-based Net Transcripts, a firm that provides transcription-outsourcing services to more than 200 criminal justice and law enforcement agencies nationwide. In cooperation with the City’s procurement staff, the police department established a pilot transcription-outsourcing program.
The program lasted six months. The City established an initial budget and imposed strict dollar limits, tasking Net Transcripts with clearing the backlog.
The City deemed the pilot program a success and initiated a formal solicitation process for future transcription services. It was the first time that the Police Department anticipated outsourcing transcription on a scale necessitating an annual requirements contract, a reflection of the department’s ongoing need for outside transcription services.
Starting from scratch
While the City’s solicitation process for transcription outsourcing differed little from other solicitations, the preparation of the solicitation document was difficult.
Christina Schipansky, a principal contract officer for the City of Tucson Department of Procurement, notes that the process required equal doses of patience and creativity.
“This was the first time we had sought to solicit offers for transcription outsourcing,” Schipansky says. “It was something new. We hadn’t done it before.
“To our knowledge there were no other procurement agencies from whom we could learn or upon whose experience we could build. As such, we were starting from scratch. We had to formulate a document that would enable us to obtain the information we needed in order to make an informed decision.”
According to Schipansky, establishing the pricing criteria posed another challenge.
“Would we pay for transcription by the word, by the line or by the page?” Schipansky recalls. “Would pricing be based on turnaround time or the accuracy of the finished transcript?”
Price-per-minute made the most sense
The logical first step was to establish performance specifications and evaluation criteria. The process began with a series of brainstorming sessions. Procurement and police representatives identified what the Police Department needed and what it wanted.
The department’s needs ranged from guaranteed system security to employee confidentiality. The department wanted a vendor with established credentials. The City included these and other criteria in the solicitation’s scope of work.
From scratch to final document, the City’s RFP was “on the street” within 90 days. The City published the RFP online and sent notices to vendors registered with the City for the kinds of services needed. Potential vendors had three weeks to submit their responses.
The City received seven proposals. A committee represented by the Police Department, the prosecutor’s office and another law enforcement agency evaluated each response. Members were chosen based on their applicable knowledge and experience. They were selected and the evaluation criteria were established before the solicitation was disseminated to the vendor community.
“The evaluation process consisted of two parts,” Schipansky explains. “First, the evaluation committee scored subjective criteria—things like the vendor’s qualifications, experience and method of approach.
“The evaluation of price was an objective comparison of each pricing offer against the lowest offer based on a formula. Traditional pricing for transcription is per line or per page. The Police Department found that, for its needs, price-per-minute of recorded audio was the most accurate way to price the work done to transcribe an interview.”
Committee applied ‘most advantageous’ standard
The committee met to review the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal. In the end, the committee’s decision came down to two fundamental questions: How did each of the seven responses compare to the evaluation criteria, and which offer best met the needs of the Tucson Police Department?
After the evaluation committee members ranked the offers, they made a recommendation. It could have been an authorization to enter into negotiations with a given vendor or an outright award, or the committee could have created a short list and conducted interviews.
Instead, the committee applied a “most advantageous” standard (versus a traditional “low-bid” standard). In such cases, an award recommendation is conferred on the proposal determined to be the most advantageous to the City given the evaluation criteria set forth in the RFP. On that basis, the committee chose Net Transcripts as the Police Department’s transcription-outsourcing vendor.
Listen and learn
The solicitation process was a learning experience for the Tucson Police Department and the City of Tucson. For example, Net Transcripts Director of Marketing and Business Development Gary Hubbard notes, the Police Department learned that it isn’t necessary to transcribe every interview it records—only interviews that will be needed in court.
“Our accelerated turnaround time enabled the department to defer transcription decisions until the last minute when the certainty of a trial was confirmed,” Hubbard explains. “As such, the department spends less on transcription because the number of required transcripts is reduced. This was an unanticipated benefit.”
For the City, the process emphasized the importance of taking the time “to really listen to what the vendor community has to say,” Schipansky says.
“Oftentimes, they’re the experts,” Schipansky says. “You can learn a lot if you listen to them. In the end, you’ll end up with a better solution to the problem you’re trying to solve.”
“There are new, better and more cost-effective ways to get things done,” he asserts. “One of our greatest challenges is getting people to sit down, let go of the past and learn about news ways of doing old things. For example, we use a secure Web-based process to do what folks have traditionally done with pens and pencils.
“Procurement departments have to be open to change, high-tech or otherwise. Tucson’s willingness to listen made a significant difference. It produced a better result for everyone involved.”
Schipansky concludes: “Positive working relationships are critical.”
“Time spent fostering professional relationships inside the City and inside the vendor community is time well-spent,” Schipansky explains. “It speeds negotiations and eases tensions when inevitable problems arise. People who respect one another and work well together generally do a better job for each other and taxpayers.”
Procurement departments across the country can benefit from the solicitation process and final agreement reached between the Tucson Department of Procurement and vendors such as Net Transcripts. As a result, cities seeking transcription-outsourcing services no longer have to start from scratch.
About the author
Dan Durrenberger has been a feature, speech, television, political, grant and ghost writer for marketing, speciality and newspaper publications as well as corporate, public-sector and nonprofit clients for 38 years. Located in Tempe, Ariz., he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.