Chicago's Procurement Modernization Seeks to Better Collaboration Across 29 City Departments

In early August, the city will advertise for requests for proposals to modernize the systems used by the Department of Procurement Services.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following the publication of this article, officials with the city of Chicago reached out to clarify that the e-procurement system was already in place and that the city’s announcement was centered on the call for an upcoming RFP for “on the existing e-procurement platform.” Cathy Kwiatkowski, director of public affairs for the city’s Department of Procurement Services, said the solicitations are being moved from the traditional paper process in a phased approach based on contract type. “The upcoming RFP for Professional Services advertisement is a significant milestone in this transition from traditional submissions to e-procurement due to the complexity of the submittals that will be received, and was the right time for the announcement,” she said.

Procurement is one of those areas of government that doesn’t often get a lot of attention. When it comes to technology, people love talking about data analytics, moving to the cloud and any number of overused catchphrases. But too often the simple stuff gets overlooked.
In Chicago, city officials have rallied behind a plan to adjust how its Department of Procurement Services (DPS) does its job. As it stands — and like so many other procurement departments in the U.S. — Chicago’s system revolves largely around a heavily paper-based process that offers little insight into how and why money is spent the way it is. Mayor Rahm Emanuel aims to change all that.

On June 14, Emanuel announced plans to revamp the outdated system with a new e-procurement solution that will be determined following a request for proposal (RFP) process that begins in early August.

“The establishment of e-procurement demonstrates our commitment to ongoing efficiency and transparency in procurement,” he said in a press release
. “We are committed to creating an open and fair government to benefit vendors and potential vendors with new tools that will make it easier to do business with the city.”

Officials say the new tools will allow for better collaboration across 29 city departments, but will also improve the more nuanced parts of the procurement process, such as responding to bids, RFPs and requests for quotation (RFQs); viewing and tracking payments and invoices; invoice submissions; and paying vendors.

Though Catherine Kwiatkowski, communications director for the Department of Procurement, said Chicago is already a national leader in the procurement transparency space, the modernized system will layer onto efforts already underway.

“The Department of Procurement Services posts the equivalent of thousands of pages of vendor, contract and payment information on the city’s website. We livestream bid openings on YouTube to provide a real-time experience and to save vendors a trip downtown,” she told Government Technology
via email. “The e-procurement project began with citywide transparency initiatives that continue to evolve; streamlining the procurement process was of equal importance and a key benefit to this undertaking.”

Among the more critical departments relying on DPS for procurement services are police and fire, transportation, public health, planning and development, and family and support services. 

“From day one in his administration," Kwiatkowski said, "Mayor Emanuel has prioritized transparency and implementing solutions to make it easier for businesses to participate in the business of city government.”

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at