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Survey results: Here’s how the pandemic is shaping public procurement priorities in 2021

May 18, 2021 | Bonfire Interactive

Procurement professional adapting to remote work - one of the top priorities highlighted by our survey

2020 was a year of challenges tackled and lessons learned for public sector agencies. While no one could have predicted the pandemic or the events that unfolded as a result, procurement teams had no choice but to keep calm and source on.

At Bonfire, we celebrate the innovative thinking and quick action of procurement professionals in continuing to deliver critical public services through COVID-19. In order to learn as much as possible from your efforts in facing the demands of the pandemic and your outlook for 2021, we distributed a survey to public procurement professionals across the US.

The results, collected over December 2020 and January 2021, uncover key trends related to how procurement teams responded to the pandemic, how COVID-19 affected operations, and how these impacts have shaped procurement priorities and strategies for 2021.

Read on for an overview of key survey insights that you can use to establish benchmarks and inform your procurement strategy going forward.

Addressing 2020’s biggest challenges required digital solutions

Looking back to the early days of the pandemic when public procurement departments scrambled to source in-demand items – hand sanitizer, face masks, IT equipment, remote work software – it’s not surprising that supply chain shortages rank at the top of 2020’s biggest procurement challenges, affecting 65% of respondents. Given the current struggles of the vaccine roll-out, with agencies looking for emergency supplies, it’s clear those challenges have only continued.

Beyond sourcing frustrations, our survey results show that procurement teams were facing other key points of strain in the procurement process, including quickly finding new vendors in new categories, facilitating contactless bid submissions and public bid openings, and responding to new and/or urgent project requests.

For many teams reliant on paper-based processes, these challenges necessitated some degree of rapid digital transformation. Survey respondents reported three very different approaches to digitization during the pandemic, from no changes to temporary fixes to permanent shifts to digital operations.

Remote work continues to be a reality in 2021

A central goal of our survey was to explore the longer-term impacts of changes driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. By understanding how agencies reevaluated operations, procurement teams can strategize about what needs to change permanently to meet new stakeholder expectations.

When it comes to one of the biggest workplace shifts of 2020 – telecommuting – our results show that nearly half of respondents expect to go back to the office full-time in 2021. On the other hand, 30% will work from home more than 50% of the time. 

While the majority of procurement professionals expect a return to the office, many agencies will have to explore ways to accommodate a hybrid work environment in which nearly a third of employees perform at least half their work from home. On top of that, procurement teams will have to account for the new dynamics of evaluators and vendors, who may expect the option of a remote, digital experience.

Cooperative contracts are the most popular cost-cutting strategy

The consequences of COVID-19-driven financial pressures on public sector organizations cannot be underestimated. Slashed budgets and downsizing across public agencies in the US have resulted in a reevaluation and reprioritization of projects and spending. 

Our survey explores this topic by measuring procurement teams’ key priorities and strategies for driving savings in the coming year. With the need to explore innovative cost-cutting opportunities in 2021, 54% of survey respondents say they plan to pursue cooperative contracts.

This strategy allows public procurement teams to leverage the benefits of partnership and gain access to vendors that are already vetted by the contracting agent. They can avoid running a solicitation and provide a faster solution – accommodating the shortened time frame that more stakeholders have come to expect, according to our survey results.

Explore more insights

Many of the changes spurred by the pandemic will have wide-reaching, long-term consequences for public procurement. And, after a whirlwind pandemic year of new processes, technologies, and ways of working, many teams are only just beginning to get their bearings.

In order to build a strategy for the coming years that’s cost-effective, agile, and future-proof, public procurement teams will need to integrate the lessons of the past year and continue building on newly realized strengths and efficiencies. 

Get more insights to inform your strategy by downloading the full survey report.

About the author

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Bonfire Interactive

Bonfire helps public procurement teams reach better sourcing outcomes through an experience that’s blazingly fast, powered by peer insights, and so easy to use—vendors love it just as much as buyers do.