How to Fix Procurement with Technology

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to participate in the Startup Weekend Government challenge. While there were lots of ideas that were interesting, my favorite idea was related to improving acquisition process through technology.

The team’s final product GS Agility ended up winning the grand prize and I love the idea of a marketplace for filling procurements under the $3,000 credit card threshold.

I’ve been thinking about procurement a lot lately so I reached out to the creator Seph and asked him a few questions – my questions and his answers are below:

What do you see as the biggest challenges with the procurement process?

Time & Burden Factor – I think the most immediate challenge with procurement is the time it takes to get from recognizing a need to final delivery. Even if agencies manage to get the budget and resources they need, they may not have the required lead time for procurements that are critical for their mission. Budgets and support contracts are often locked in way in advance of a mission change or new mandate, and acquiring something quickly may sacrifice (more time consuming) open competition and reduce the chance the most possible vendors to compete for business. Worse, agencies may just ignore a policy or opportunity because of the burden of the procurement cycle.

Proper Measures – While we work to increase speed we also need to make sure that the proper measures are still taken to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. To accomplish all of these goals requires a change in the way we approach procurement that takes full advantage of the capabilities that web platforms offer.

Where can technology innovation help fit in?

Web Platforms – Web platforms are excellent at bringing together vendor capacity with customer demand by reducing the barriers and information gaps between the two. Portals like GSA eBuy and GSA Advantage and are a great start in the right direction, but I believe we can go even further. We should be able to provide a full web marketplace experience for government that delivers goods and services at the speed citizens require.

Government needs web platforms that facilitate the entire procurement process end to end – solicitations, bids, responses, awards, comments, and payment. An end to end platform would provide visibility on all transactions and permit auditors to see patterns and better prevent fraud. It also provides open access to opportunities for easy bidding and payment which increases the speed for an open competition and the diversity of responses. Faster. Simpler. More transparent.

What’s role of gov’t creating the innovation vs 3rd parties (like vs a standard .gov site)

Role of Private Sector and role of Acquisition Data – Private sector parties like FedBid and our own venture GSAgility can lead the way by building marketplace platforms within existing policies and rules, but to really revolutionize procurement the government can also help by using the data these portals generate to innovate with policy. An example might be data-driven, iterative policy “experiments” for instance whether raising purchase card limits or changing competition rules to suit web-based platforms results in better speed and value to government. Down the road, government and industry might also cooperate more closely through partnership agreements or by paying to operate purpose-built marketplaces as a service.

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Jaime Gracia

This is truly innovation. However, the ultimate problem is adoption by the acquisition workforce, and I see technology challenges everyday. Many organizations that I have worked with in the past few years see email as an innovation, as opposed to technology that can help improve performance and efficiency.

Instead of a COTS solution to help in contract formation, these same agencies are using ancient ERP systems that have been modified way past anything that they were designed for, as opposed to fixing broken processes and leveraging the technology. The efficiencies that the technology brought went out the window, and now they are proprietary system that make no sense and waste an enormous amount of time figuring them out.

Look at this report from Iraq about the billions wasted because CORs and COs were not verifying invoices. How would technology have helped that situation? What were they doing?