California is talking and vendors should be listening

Published: January 31, 2014

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The California Technology Agency recently stripped down its procurement process and took a hard look at what is working and what is not. The California IT Procurement Task Force recently completed an analysis, and the findings were presented this week in a webinar led by the Rosio Alvarez, head of the task force; Carlos Ramos, California Department of Technology Director and CIO; and Richard Pennington, general counsel and task force member.  

While there were many issues worth investigating, the task force focused on project approval, timeliness, and reducing complexity in the procurement process. Alvarez explained that project approval is a daunting, time-consuming step in the procurement process. The state used to require a feasibility study before every major IT endeavor, which proved to be time consuming, expensive, and not always necessary. The task force eventually ran a business process analysis and recommended removing the feasibility study requirement. Now, the state will be required to do market research to gain knowledge of the technology being procured, provide a thorough procurement plan, and develop a comprehensive budget. If the established procurement timeline is adhered to, then it is less likely that the project will fall behind. Expediting the approval process and replacing the feasibility study with simpler steps offers time saving and reduced costs while providing the same valuable information.

Currently, California has many measures in place to ensure a fair procurement that is open to all vendors, but it is not working as it should. In fact, it is decreasing the pool of vendors that can bid because the procurement process is too lengthy. This leads to the state acquiring technology that is outdated once the procurement process is all said and done. This current process is not beneficial to the vendor or the state.

In an effort to eliminate these outdated measures, the state has set a 10-month procurement goal from RFP release to contract execution. Ramos even went on to set a loftier 6-month procurement goal. He acknowledged that the timeline is not always feasible, but he’s had success with it in a recent cloud-computing procurement.

A major focus of the task force during the webinar was reducing complexity. Outdated measures, inefficient processes, and miscommunication with vendors have been an obstacle; therefore, the state went to the bidders and asked how they could better the procurement process. One answer rang clear: improve communication.

States will benefit from developing clear project goals and requirements ahead of time by determining the business problems to solve and why a new solution is needed. If the state is confident and detailed in what it wants to procure, it makes the proposal writing much easier for vendors. It also provides an opportunity to pre-screen vendors so that only the most qualified are spending time developing a bid.

California is also toying with the idea of working with potential bidders before a solicitation hits the streets. In a recent test run, the state reached out to vendors it thought were a good fit for procuring a new technology and asked them to come “live” in the California Department of Technology for a few days. The vendors observed the antiquated system, saw the problems that needed addressing, then sat down with state officials and wrote the requirements of the request for proposals (RFP) together. Vendors were then asked to submit bids for the project, and the state selected the most suitable provider. While slightly unconventional, it allowed maximum transparency for the vendors who were a good fit and gave them a say in what the state needed. It also offered valuable insight into their key competitors. This may not be the way of the future for all procurements, but it may be a successful method for more specialized projects.

In another effort to maximize communication, California has been using contract code 6611, which allows negotiations and communication all the way up to the day a contract is signed. It provides a vehicle for best and final offers as well as pre-mortem and post-mortem debriefs so that unsuccessful bidders can see who won and why.

Overall, California is making great strides to improve the procurement process. State officials want to hear what vendors have to say before, during, and after the process. They want to speed things up so that vendors can bid and win faster, and agencies can implement suitable, up-to-date technologies. Ramos acknowledged that technology is the future and California won’t be left behind.

Vendors should be vocal about wanting to be involved in California’s procurement makeover. The state is open and willing to hear bidders’ feedback, and being visible in the eyes of government will surely be beneficial. If these new measures prove successful in California, other states are sure to follow in the near future.

California procurement is going to be moving at a faster pace, and vendors need to keep up. There may be less time between requirements gathering, solicitation release, and award. By eliminating the mandatory feasibility study component, procurements will accelerate, which is bad news for consulting companies looking to win business. They will still find an opportunity to bid on larger, less defined projects where the state needs guidance, but they will be fewer and farther between. This may increase competition, so vendors need to bring their A-game.

Consultants will need to partner with larger companies to ensure they see business. Procurement roadmaps may include a feasibility study aspect in the planning of the project, so consulting companies should pair up with other bidders to win. Again, being vocal will only behoove vendors and push them to the top of California’s list.

You can learn more about current procurement opportunities in California in the GovWin IQ State and Local Opportunities database. Not a Deltek subscriber? Click here to learn more about Deltek's GovWin IQ service and gain access to a free trial.