Fostering Innovation and Collaboration in Public Sector Procurement

Yes, it’s possible.

Sourcing IT services in the public sector presents a unique set of challenges.  Government entities often run defensive procurements, seeking to avoid protests rather than achieve the best outcomes for all parties involved.  At Integris Applied, we’ve heard both buyers and sellers express concern: state IT leaders at a perceived difficulty in tapping the creativity and innovation of the marketplace, service providers at the stricture, opaqueness, and extended timeline of the RFP process.

A CIO from large state agency – venting his frustration at an inability to get innovation from service providers through his procurement process – told us: “the Internet would never have been built if someone had to do it with an RFP.”

Patrick Moore has written an article (Government and the Marketplace: Bridging a Divide) describing the problem and proposing some solutions.

Mr. Moore encourages greater empathy, transparency, and engagement in the process.

Integris Applied has long had a focus in government technology sourcing.  Our experience shows that it is possible to foster creativity and innovation while maintaining the consistency and ethical standards required in public sector procurement – particularly when operating in accordance with Mr. Moore’s recommendations.

We have found that the following specific activities can help government entities engage more collaboratively with the marketplace and greatly improve outcomes in the service relationship:

  • Communicate to the market directly – ahead of launching a procurement: Use IT agency web site, conferences, or other public medium to announce strategy and provide guidance on scope and timing, well before releasing a Request for Proposal (RFP) on a procurement portal.
  • Leverage Request for Information (RFI) or Draft RFP process: An RFI or Draft RFP can be used to gain insight from the marketplace regarding potential service offerings, pricing approaches, and delivery methods prior to defining RFP requirements.
  • Offer public forums for clarity: Early in the acquisition process, host bidders’ conferences to explain the goals, potential scope, timeline, events, etc.
  • Provide bidder training: As the procurement starts, and at appropriate stagegates later, provide direct training to the potential bidders. Both multinational service providers and developing small businesses struggle to understand administrative forms required, unique local statutes, and even services requirements and scope as stated in an RFP.  Training may include RFP structure and process, how to complete forms, orientation on upcoming events, where to find additional information, etc.
  • Maintain a reasonable timeline and communicate dates well in advance: Bidders will spend significant time and money trying to win a public sector contract, and will be juggling resources across other sales opportunities. Buyers should plan their timeline as reasonably as possible, taking into account length of time to develop documents, evaluator/approver availability, and budget/appropriations cycles.  If timelines change, or as decisions are made (for example, to invite a bidder to an oral session), communicate the dates as far in advance as possible, allowing sufficient time for service provider resourcing planning and travel booking.
  • Provide adequate clarification and due diligence sessions: as the procurement proceeds (and typically after a downselect to a workable number of potential providers), host clarification sessions for evaluators to ask questions regarding the proposals. Additionally, allow the bidders to have access to as much information about the environment as possible through a due diligence phase, sharing existing service information such as assets, costs, contracts, and subject matter expertise.
  • Evaluate the provider’s solution to meet the requirements: The RFP should indicate the high-level requirements, and encourage the service provider to propose a solution to meet the requirements. The evaluation should be based on how the service provider’s solution effectively meets the requirements – not simply on whether they have accepted the requirements.
  • Keep commitments: Maintaining momentum, especially in larger, more strategic procurements is critical for stakeholder management.  The buyer needs an outcome, and the seller is investing considerable resources to pursue the opportunity.  Delays, missed dates and periods with no or little communication create perceptions that the opportunity is not supported or will not be implemented.

These are just some of the ways to maintain the objectivity standards required in public sector procurement, while making it more effective in encouraging marketplace involvement and creativity.

Related: Integris Applied and Set Consulting recently announced a strategic partnership to help governments deliver services with greater agility and transparency.

– Tim Ryckman, 1-Nov-2014 – [bio]
Tim Ryckman