Will digital transformation of city procurement hold up beyond the pandemic?
As many public servants continue to work from home or with limited access to the office, city procurement teams have had to make ad hoc investments in a myriad of solutions to run essential processes like vendor proposal submissions, bid openings, and evaluations. For many agencies, three to five years’ worth of digital transformation had to happen in the span of just a few short months.
As we surpass the 9-month mark since COVID-19 first started impacting North America, now is the time for procurement teams to stop and re-evaluate their temporary set of solutions before they become permanent by default. After all, as breakthroughs in the COVID-19 vaccine continue to emerge, public institutions need to start considering whether their current procurement operations will be sustainable after the pandemic as well. To thrive during the pandemic and beyond, procurement teams need to fully digitize their processes—not just with a patchwork set of tools, but with tenable software solutions that better enable cities and counties to meet the needs of their citizens.
Invest in tools optimized for speed and compliance
To thrive during the pandemic and beyond, procurement teams need to identify tools that can support procurement’s new priorities—and if there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that balancing speed while ensuring transparency and compliance is key.
According to The State of Public Sourcing report, which analyzed the projects conducted by hundreds of North American public procurement teams since the pandemic started, procurement teams have been doing what they can to streamline projects and source emergency supplies (like PPE, ventilators, and hand sanitizer) quickly and compliantly. Evaluators per project have decreased by 15%, from 4.46 to 3.8. The average number of pages per vendor submission went from 207 to 156 (25% decrease), demonstrating some of the compromises being made on procurement projects to get the goods and services into the hands of constituents faster than ever before.
In times of crisis, citizens depend on their government, and procurement is the driving force in practically ensuring that people get the goods and services they need. As municipal governments continue to recognize this, procurement teams must invest in the tools that are purpose-built to address the public health crisis even faster and with airtight compliance to all state regulations.
Shifting mindsets pave the way for procurement digital transformation
To adapt to remote work or limited public access to government offices, the public sector has increased its investment in IT and software. The State of Public Sourcing unearthed that, compared to last year, municipalities have had to source:
- 350% more communications devices and accessories
- 285% more computer services
- 150% more consumer electronics
- 67% more data voice or multimedia network equipment or platforms
- 1300% more information technology service delivery
- 122% more software
Many cities and municipalities may have previously viewed IT and software as an expendable cost, rather than business-critical for functions like procurement. As many government offices have made the jump to either fully or partially work from home, however, software services that enable remote productivity and communication have become critical to ensuring project continuity.
Additionally, the State of Public Sourcing report found that 73% of procurement professionals said COVID-19’s effects caused their organization to recognize how vital digital procurement is, and their organization will continue to make it a priority in the future.
Evidently, overall sentiments towards the use of technology to power our cities most critical processes are shifting, opening the door for procurement digitization to be considered mandatory. For agencies who were previously relying on free or low-cost tools, now is the time to advocate for robust and best-value procurement software.
Transitioning from patchwork to sustainable solutions
For agencies still working from home, or those that are back in the office with new restrictions, adapting to COVID-19 forced at least some change in every organization’s procurement process.
Cities and counties that already had digital processes in place saw a fairly smooth transition, whereas many agencies who had previously depended on physical evaluation scorecards or mail-in vendor proposals were instantly forced to develop a “patchwork” system to maintain project continuity. For instance, an agency may use a combination of email and Excel spreadsheets to receive and evaluate bids.
While these patchwork systems may have worked in the past—and even served as a band-aid fix in the early days of the pandemic —they are not sustainable for the long-term. The more disparate systems used by an organization, the more opportunity for gaps in audit trails, for instance. In the past few months, the GAO has had to order multiple state departments to re-evaluate proposals and make new sourcing decisions because there were inadequate audit trails to justify evaluation conclusions.
It’s not enough for procurement teams to just “wait it out” and expect to go back to the way things were. Even for public servants that are back in the office, the way procurement is done is changing. For instance, 21% of evaluation work is now done outside of office hours (i.e. on evenings and weekends)—a 62% increase compared to before the pandemic. For evaluators, flexibility and convenience in the evaluation process are more important than ever. To protect cities from legal risk, while also meeting the new expectations of their stakeholders and citizens, procurement teams need to consider digital transformation for critical functions like procurement.
The City of San Angelo, for example, was previously accepting vendor submissions by mail. The City invested in eSourcing software in order to use online bid submissions to eliminate the need for in-person proposal submissions, courier deliveries, and physical bid openings. Because eSourcing helped maintain social distancing and improve their telework capabilities, the City of San Angelo was even able to overcome budget constrictions by expensing the software solution through the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
The role of procurement has never been more challenging, or more in the spotlight. Now is the time for procurement to re-evaluate the free or co-opted tools that enabled service delivery when the pandemic first began and invest in the digital tools that will help streamline RFP evaluation, foster stakeholder collaboration, and maintain compliance during the pandemic and beyond.
Corry Flatt is the CEO of Bonfire.