Communication, Collaboration Are Key to Effective Procurement

At NASCIO's annual conference, Minnesota CIO Tom Baden and Idaho Chief Procurement Officer Sarah Hilderbrand talked best practices in procurement, emphasizing the importance of relationship-building.

AUSTIN, Texas — It’s relationships between IT and procurement agencies, as well as between government and vendors, that are essential to effective public-sector purchasing.

That was the theme at a session with Minnesota CIO Tom Baden and Sarah Hilderbrand, chief procurement officer of Idaho, at NASCIO’s annual conference Tuesday morning, one that reflects the previous day’s opening keynote speech. From making strides in innovation to doing more with fewer resources, establishing open lines of communication with critical partners is key to maximizing impact.

When it comes to getting new tech into government, Baden said, “the challenge of innovation falls on both sides of the fence.”

In other words, not only must government figure out how to creatively use new tech, but also vendors need to help them find those use cases.

For Hilderbrand, “innovation comes from early involvement” from vendors, because “we need to understand from an industry perspective what’s out there, what’s coming.”

Negotiations can be limited if you wait for government to release an RFP, she explained. Getting in early with the public agency builds more flexibility into the ultimate contract, which allows for more innovation; it also helps avoid potential stumbling blocks down the road and allows feedback from both parties.

Both Baden and Hilderbrand also stressed the importance of the relationship between a jurisdiction’s IT and procurement agencies. For example, in Idaho, a monthly meeting between procurement and IT staff helps both groups strategize, and allows for planning based on what they’re seeing in their organizations. 

Creating this relationship has “helped dispel some of the miscommunication between IT and procurement,” Hildebrand said, adding that when issues do arise, those lines of communication become key.

Both Minnesota and Idaho operate on centralized purchasing models, which according to Baden is essential for everything from cybersecurity to oversight and visibility. It also helps ensure continuity across operations and compliance within applicable legal regulations.

Baden also sees enterprise agreements as the future of state government procurement, saying they are “really driving us to innovation.” This allows for numerous applications to be accomplished with solutions that are already in place, rather than going through a big RFP process every time a need arises.

He also spoke to the future of agile procurement as a way to get more done more quickly, operating in terms of many small purchases rather than a few large ones.

“The days of big, big procurements,” Baden said, “are a thing of the past.”

Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 10 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.