Strategic procurement for local governments
Faced with constant pressure to reduce costs and increase efficiency, communities are continually seeking ways to deliver their services in ways that are quicker, cheaper, and better. Parallel with these developments, procurement teams at the local government level are focused on crafting processes that offer value, enhance competition, and maximize the chances for successful community initiatives and improvements—while operating within the limits of municipal budgets.
The advent of e-procurement programs (many with attractive track records) has allowed civic administrations large and small to adopt standardized procurement methods and tools. While this approach is well suited to some applications—such as purchasing office supplies or equipment where numerous suppliers compete—its usefulness is limited when it comes to more complex and specialized procurements, such as those for professional services.
A strategically planned procurement process can maximize results for all parties: elected representatives, local business leaders, and constituents. The elements of a successful campaign are summarized below.
Ensure internal coordination
- Map out objectives. Lay out the community’s goals in the RFP: discuss the aims of the procurement with the team in advance, outline in simple terms how the procurement relates to the community’s goals, and explain what role the selected contractor / consultant will play in advancing these objectives.
- Involve stakeholders. Ask key individuals who will play a significant role in the implementation phase—especially those who are not part of local government—to participate on the interview panel. Engaging them early in the process will pay off down the road; establishing a relationship with people gives them an investment in the outcome.
- Know the rules. Make sure someone on your team has a strong understanding of the legal statutes, codes, and other policies and procedures that will govern your procurement process.
Facilitate communications with proposers
Clear, timely, and complete communication with all stakeholders—before, during, and even after the process—sends a strong signal to all about your professionalism and engagement in the project, and ultimately attracts high quality submittals, which in turn elevates the perception of your organization as a responsible business partner as well as a community that values quality. Here are some tips on being a proactive communicator:
- Outreach in advance. Before issuing a RFP, get the word out that it’s coming. More interest = more competition = better chance of success. Local industry event organizers and civic organizations are always looking for speakers with relevant, time-sensitive content, and yours may be exactly what they are seeking. Done right, these presentations provide an opportunity to convey what you’re looking for in an informal public setting that’s much more engaging and compelling than the paper (or digital) RFP document.
- Cast a wide net. Sure, it would be great to find a vendor that has done exactly what you are looking for, earlier this year, in your market…but if your requirements for “similar” experience are too restrictive, you will only limit competition. Structure your RFP in a way that defines your city’s needs in general terms, and avoid being overly specific.
- Allow adequate turnaround time. Vendors need time to develop quality proposals. Depending on the nature of the RFP, this can range from a few weeks to several months.
- Encourage dialogue. Provide an opportunity to ask questions about the RFP and invite all parties to submit their questions. When you respond, provide your answers in writing to everyone; the official community website is an excellent forum for publishing this kind of communication.
- Be transparent. Lay out your process clearly in the RFP, include a schedule (and stick to it!), and don’t be afraid to over-communicate.
Assemble an exceptional team
City or county officials can provide great added value to their communities by taking a hands-on role: collaborating with their procurement teams, working together to produce a thoughtful, strategic approach that clearly communicates desired outcomes, and aligning the RFP process with the municipality’s goals. Two positions are key to ensuring a project’s success:
- Project champion. In communities of all sizes, a robust senior leadership presence can be transformative. An effective project champion oversees the process, collaborates with the internal team, and is visible throughout the process. Proposers will see and appreciate this involvement, recognize the work is important to the local residents and businesses, and be motivated to invest more time and effort into crafting a proposal that hits the mark.
- Procurement manager. In larger cities, communities and counties, RFP teams are often led by a procurement manager, whose judgment, ethics, and business savvy will be central to finding the best and brightest talent. Invest in hiring capable, qualified individuals who are positive team players with experience running successful procurements.
Successful procurement management isn’t only about efficiency; it has a significant personal component that no automated process can replicate. Handling your project with a thoughtful strategy, perspective, and empathy will yield optimal outcomes for every citizen in every community.
Scott Sumners is a leader for Rider Levett Bucknall’s project management services. Scott has over 20 years of experience in urban development, with a concentration in large public projects.