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Ohio Qualifies 50 Firms for 'Exploratory' Data Analytics Projects

After an updated RFP process yielded a significant response, Ohio has qualified 50 companies to consider statements of work for data analytics projects with state agencies.

Six months after releasing a request for proposals (RFP) aimed at changing the way the state procures IT, officials in Ohio told Government Technology that from a pool of 82 proposals encompassing 129 unique businesses, they have qualified 50 companies to advance as experts.

Ohio’s RFP, which was released on Jan. 5, focuses on data analytics and was distributed to 2,313 companies in an effort to generate new tools for agencies including its departments of Public Safety and Taxation, Office of Family and Children, and Bureau of Workers Compensation.

But officials realized they needed to streamline their IT procurement process to attract new and smaller-sized vendors, Ohio-based businesses and new technology.

Their solicitation targeted “new [to the state] firms” and “smaller ‘boutiques’ that may offer expertise in niche areas,” officials said in a recent PowerPoint about the results — and ultimately yielded 50 that demonstrated expertise in at least one category. These companies have been offered contracts, to perform “expert-level exploratory projects.”

Twenty-nine companies also submitted proposals indicating their interest in providing platform services to the state; these proposals are still being evaluated.

The state stimulated interest by simplifying its RFP response requirements and offering a “trial run” of revised terms and conditions, including shrinking the liability burden and work history requirement for smaller vendors.

Turnout was striking. An online bidders conference conducted via Skype — a first for the state — attracted 501 attendees, and a subsequent 226 inquiries before proposals were submitted. Of the proposals received, 22 came from Ohio companies — 11 newcomers and 11 “incumbents.”

CIO Stu Davis told Government Technology that the state hopes to take the next step toward producing those tools later in July or in August: issuing the first statements of work, with the hope of getting proofs of concept back during the second quarter of the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

“I think it’s important for us in government to do as much as we can on the front end to streamline processes so that we’re not raising the cost of doing business with the state,” Davis said, noting it’s not uncommon for a response to a complex state RFP to cost from $800,000 to $1.5 million.

“That’s just the cost to get in the door. That doesn’t even guarantee you’re going to get the work,” he added.

Of particular note, Davis said, is that many companies expressed an interest and prequalified in more than one of 14 state disciplines put forth, including crime, corrections and recidivism; life sciences; public health; and transportation. Two firms pre-qualified in all 14 areas, he said, while seven qualified in more than 12 categories — demonstrating “very broad expertise,” officials said in the PowerPoint.

On average, more than 19 companies were deemed qualified in each category. Life Science and Public Health, the area with the highest number, had 33 firms qualify, while 26 qualified in Fraud, Waste and Abuse. Only seven companies qualified in the area of Environment/Natural Resources, the least in any category.

In an effort to keep the vendor pool active, the CIO said companies that decide not to bid on statements of work will be asked to explain why; and those that repeatedly do not respond will likely be asked to requalify.

Scaling back mandatories, a key strategy, shook up the vendor pool — something officials said not everyone was comfortable with. But comfort levels showed an intriguing dichotomy.

Only three of 46 new state vendors had issues with terms and conditions, whereas 15 of 27 firms with which the state already does business indicated that they had issues.

That differential, Davis said, told officials that their new terms and conditions “aren’t that bad,” and that familiar companies may be “a little too comfortable.”

Beyond enhancing the state’s ability to analyze data, Tom Hoyt, chief communications officer for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, said Ohio’s goal in calling for the creation of new tools is to unite state agencies around subject focus.

“You have various state agencies that are all doing some type of work in those areas, but independently. And the whole data analytics effort is to kind of bring that together, to get the best results possible by combining these, you know, multiple work load areas,” Hoyt said.

This summer, officials will continue developing statements of work with state subject matter experts, including officials with insight into data needs around infant mortality, opiate abuse, workforce development and financial analysis.

Depending upon cost, Davis said officials may be able to run more than one proof of concept per area, to see whether companies obtain different results by using unique algorithms and science on the same data streams.

Either way, he said, “I’m anxious to drop one into the cauldron and see what comes out.”

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.