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Episode 5: Optimizing Public Procurement Through Collaboration

Collaboration | 26 minutes

Episode Overview:

The public procurement landscape can be very fragmented. Different departments and divisions use different processes and different systems. In short, everyone has their own way of doing things.

In this episode, Carol Izzio, Director of Procurement at Sheridan College, explains why sharing best practices and collaborating is the best way to improve public procurement for the future.

We discuss:

  • Why optimization matters
  • How technology can support public procurement
  • Why sustainable procurement needs to evolve

Reach out to Carol at [email protected].

You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to Inside Public Procurement on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or gobonfire.com/podcast.

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About our guest

Headshot of Carol Izzio, Director of Procurement at Sheridan College

Carol Izzio | Sheridan College

With over 15 years of experience in public procurement, Carol Izzio is the Director of Procurement at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. Carol previously worked in healthcare, managing contracts with hospitals across Canada. Now in education, Carol is concentrating on using all paths and resources to ensure that procurement has a more consistent and valued approach for Sheridan.

Transcript

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You’re listening to Inside Public Procurement by Bonfire. A show celebrating the unique stories and heroic efforts of those on the front lines of public procurement. Each episode, we bring you the latest trends, tips, and real stories from procurement trailblazers like you, who work tirelessly to bring positive impact to the agencies and communities you serve. Together, let’s elevate the field of public procurement to new heights. Now, pull up a chair and let’s gather around the Bonfire, our show is about to begin.

Rachel (00:38):

Hello and welcome to the Inside Public Procurement Podcast. My name is Rachel Friesen and I am the Director of Client Experience at Bonfire. A procurement solution used by over 450 public agencies across North America. I’m joined today by Carol Izzio, Director of Procurement Business Services at Sheridan College. Carol has been in public procurement for over 15 years. She started out in healthcare prior to the EPS directives. And within that time has worked for the medical device company, managing contracts with hospitals across Canada. There, she got a glimpse into the differences in public procurement across Canada and the duplication of efforts. Now, in education, Carol is concentrating on using all paths resources to ensure that procurement has a more consistent and valued approach for Sheridan.

Rachel (01:27):

Thank you so much for joining me today, Carol. And actually before we get started, what are you looking forward to this summer?

Carol Izzio (01:34):

First of all, thank you very much, Rachel, for having me. This is really fun to be able to do. I think for summer, for me, I’m looking forward to… I have early teen daughters who were working from home and their schooling with me while I’m working from home. And I’m looking forward to them having the time off away from a screen. It’s been really challenging for everybody to be trying to get our schedules together, figure out when we have meetings, and when they need help from me. And so, it’s going to be really nice for them to just sit back, do something that’s not in front of the screen and just relax. I’m looking forward to having breakfast with them, doing some things that are just a little bit more casual than they were before. It was a pretty hectic schedule towards the end of the year.

Rachel (02:18):

No, that sounds so nice. I know, true eye contact again.

Carol Izzio (02:23):

Yes. Absolutely.

Rachel (02:25):

For the last, however long of the pandemic, I’m just thinking everyone’s making eye contact with me, but who really knows? It’s like, we’re finally back to like in-person connection, but no, that sounds great.

Rachel (02:36):

And then we’ll be going through a range of topics in the discussion, but I guess just start out, everyone heard some context in the bio I read. But I wanted to understand a little bit more, if you could tell me about yourself and the current agency that you’re supporting Carol.

Carol Izzio (02:50):

Sure. So I kind of fell into procurement by accident. I was coming back from mat leave with my oldest daughter. And she turned 16 in June so that was over 15 years ago. And I fell into procurement from a friend of mine who was working in the hospital. So, 15 years ago started in healthcare procurement and then just have sort of evolved through the different policies, the different procedures that have happened with procurement. And now, currently, jumped over to education and I’m working at Sheridan College and we have three campuses, 25,000 plus full and part-time students. Procurement is actually centralized through all of those campuses right into our department for anything that’s over 100K. So, really enjoying the new opportunity.

Carol Izzio (03:38):

Sheridan is also within my community. So, I live not even a… I’m going to say a 10 minute bike ride from my house is where the office is. So, when we eventually get to go back, it’ll be a very nice commute.

Rachel (03:50):

Yeah, I was going to say that’s the dream commute. Some nice fresh air too.

Rachel (03:55):

I was going to say, you mentioned you fell into procurement. Was there anything specific, if you can remember back, that you really gravitated to that made you… I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I was going to say fall in love with purchasing.

Carol Izzio (04:06):

Yeah I think what it really was is they were looking for funny enough, I worked up in the OR, so in healthcare. So, as a very non-clinical person, I came into it because they were looking for an inventory expert. And I was an inventory manager and materials manager. And they were just looking for somebody to help them manage the inventory of the OR so that they had just in time and all that sort of stuff. So, it started out like that.

Carol Izzio (04:33):

And then it migrated into, “Okay, so we’ve got these contracts, they’re coming up for renewal, what do we need to do with them? How do we make sure that we’re looking at others, getting best value,” and all that sort of stuff. So, within the hospital, because there was such a need, their procurement process was very basic it was managed by the clinical staff. So, the clinical staff are not trained to do procurement, not trained to do managing inventory, but it kind of fell onto their lap. So, when I came in, they were happy to hand it over. And then, we started some developing some processes there. So, it just kind of migrated from there.

Carol Izzio (05:09):

I love organizing, I love putting things together, making sure that we’re always moving forward, and changing processes for the better, not just to change them. So, this was kind of an excitement for me.

Rachel (05:23):

No, that’s great to hear, especially when you mentioned asking the why behind process change and making sure there’s critical thinking applied to it.

Rachel (05:30):

I’m curious, why is optimization important to you and how do you think, or why does it matter to public procurement?

Carol Izzio (05:38):

Well, in the past public procurement has always been silos. So, the institution did their own procurement. So, we’ve been known to reinvent the wheel. So, one college would do it one way another college would do it another. One hospital would do it one way and another would do it another. But it was really important for us to search. And for us to be able to say, “Okay, there is differences, but there is a ton of similarities.” All the organizations have IT departments, they have facilities departments, they have HR departments. And within all of those departments, there is commonalities. And all of these commonalities are the same in healthcare, education, ministries, municipalities. All of that sort of stuff they have those commonalities. So, for public procurement, there isn’t as much difference as we might think. So, the whole thing around optimization is let’s look at processes, systems, innovations, challenges that all of these groups have had and start sharing that information, collaborating through it. It’s kind of one of the biggest things I’ve noticed.

Rachel (06:44):

And that’s great too, from your insight, because I think what can happen, or what we often hear is people work for the majority, or all of their career in one sector, let’s say medical buying. But because you have that exposure… And you mentioned too, I think in your background you worked… The medical device company that was not public sector, correct?

Carol Izzio (07:03):

No, it wasn’t. So I checked a couple years off and I worked in the medical device company, which was really helpful because then you saw another facet. You saw how the suppliers interacted with the hospitals. And their confusion as to what public procurement meant and understanding. And one of the things that I found really challenging when I was at that medical device company is we worked across Canada. So, from BC to Newfoundland, and every province sometimes like within Ontario, multiple different processes within one province, but every single province had a different process. Every single province, even just their contract process, their way that they do their RFPs, some were paper, some were online.

Carol Izzio (07:47):

So, I got to see the differences from province to province. Some were much more advanced, some were less advanced. Some were completely different. Some were managed by the ministries in the actual province. Some were just completely managed by their own private sector organization. So, it gave me a real good insight as to how fragmented public procurement is not only within a province, but across the country. So, it kind of put some wheels in motion for me to say, “Let’s take the best out of everything and let’s start putting some other things in place.

Rachel (08:24):

No, that’s a great perspective to have. I think not everyone makes the flip between private and public. Or the transition, I should say.

Rachel (08:30):

And then on that note too, you’ve had such a varied experience in the sense of like organizational verticals you’ve supported, private and public sector. This is a bit of a change of topic, but I’m curious, what’s a resource, a tool, or a channel people aren’t using correctly, do you think, or to its fullest?

Carol Izzio (08:46):

So, I think when we talk about optimization it kind of goes right into the resources and the channels. The optimization is really about using each other. So, we have a ton of professional procurement people out there. There are a ton of procurement organizations out there. They all might have more of a specific focus, but we aren’t utilizing them as much as we should. So, we need to start reaching out and not reinvent the wheel, not look at okay so, I need to have a new policy, procurement policy. So, let’s start from scratch and let’s use our old one and just do it as opposed to reaching out to the institutions and say, “What does your procurement policy look like? Can I pull some things out of that?” Or looking at things like that.

Carol Izzio (09:33):

So, I think the resource that we’re not using is like kind of the already established organizations that do procurement across the country, that do procurement within the province that we’re in. And just reaching out to get some templates, to get some feedback because everybody’s done it at least once. There’s good feedback, there’s bad feedback. And if there’s a process, somebody has already tried that hasn’t worked. The best thing to do is get that feedback before you try it again and waste everybody’s time.

Carol Izzio (10:02):

I think the other thing that we were forced to do was bring in technology, but that has been the most important thing that we were forced to do because technology is really the way that we’re going to be able to collaborate instantly. So, we can share, we can collaborate, we can develop best practices almost instantly because we can share through different websites, different portals, like all of that sort of stuff. And I think now that we have Zoom calls, now that we have these podcasts, there is a lot of information sharing that’s happening that is crucial to the development, and the progress of procurement in the provinces, and in Canada as a whole.

Rachel (10:46):

I was going to say too, I know previously when we were talking, you mentioned many organizations have been forced to take the leap to adopt technology, but sometimes there’s still a hybrid that occurs for some time, like a paper and technology. Why do you think that is, the kind of foot in both worlds to a degree?

Carol Izzio (11:03):

Well, I think a lot of times, it’s just we have procurement people that have been in procurement for 20, 25 years. Whereas they would receive bids in binders, and there was a process there. You had to see the physical bid to be comfortable that it complied. And you signed a piece of paper saying what time you received it, they got a timestamp. So, it was all very regimented as to what the process was.

Carol Izzio (11:31):

I think when people see that that process is online, they’re not as comfortable that the rigor has been put into it. So, they’re not quite adapting to that because the rigor was very hands-on. There was a lot that the procurement people had to do to make sure it was compliant. Now, it’s all done, automated, which to me is the right way to do it. To me, it takes that sort of little bit of hands-on that we would have to do in the past.

Carol Izzio (11:58):

The other thing is that it’s really important for us to be allowing people to bid that wouldn’t necessarily have access to bidding. So, when you can bid online, you can be in BC and bid online to have a project in Ontario, if you can physically do the actual whatever the scope is. But the bidding is quite easy to do because you just go online from your office, wherever it is, or from your home nowadays. And you can put in a proposal and it can be accepted in minutes. So, I think from that perspective, the technology is really necessary.

Carol Izzio (12:36):

The other thing, I think from a hybrid perspective, people still like real signatures. And not all institutions have adopted the Adobe, or the DocuSign, or whatever, the digital signatures as valid signatures. So, they’re printing off the contracts, getting real signatures, scanning them back in. So, when I say there’s that hybrid sort of method, it’s still a lot of paper coming out, and trying to get real signatures on it, and then scanning it, and faxing it… Or sorry, emailing it.

Carol Izzio (13:09):

So, I think that that piece of it, we just need to recognize that we trust the technology. And I think when you’re able to trust the technology, we’ll move from hybrid to fully online. And I think that’s what we need to fully embrace.

Rachel (13:24):

No, that’s great discrenment. I think that’s a good point, I think we have to remember it takes time to build the trust. And when you’re dissolving tactical components of a person’s role it takes time to build a new norm.

Carol Izzio (13:35):

Yeah.

Rachel (13:36):

And I want to make sure we get to it because it was a thing that I think your team, I should say, was stand out with, and that is sustainable procurement and that initiative for you and your organization. But I know it’s an overarching term as we go into a sustainable procurement topic for a little bit now. So, what does sustainable procurement mean to you, Carol? What does it look like? How do you expect it to evolve?

Carol Izzio (13:57):

Well, sustainable procurement I think is everybody’s eyes have been opened to sustainable procurement during COVID. So, first of all, people actually know what procurement is because of COVID. So, they know the term. My kids can actually say what I do, and it’s not completely foreign. You see it on the news. We actually have a Minister of Procurement now. So, many people see it and they see what it does. And they’ve also seen the challenges of it. So, procurement is a very challenging environment when you’re in something like a pandemic. So, we’ve seen what has happened from it.

Carol Izzio (14:33):

Sustainable procurement, to us, to our organization is it achieves social, economical, environmental, and financial goals. So, there’s a whole gamut to what it is. So, sustainable procurement isn’t just about clean purchasing. It’s about a whole gamut of things now. And it absolutely needs to evolve. Sustainable procurement needs to evolve because the severe hit to the economy during COVID, the entire country has realized that we are all professionally and personally responsible for the financial health of our communities.

Carol Izzio (15:07):

So, people say, “Well, what am I going to be able to do?” There are things that you can do at home every single day that are going to help the communities. There was a study done by a local, a nonprofit organization in BC that showed that for every $1 spent in small to medium size enterprise, 46 cents is reinvested into the local economy. And that’s comparing to 14 cents is reinvested by big box companies. So, we just need to think through that a little bit and say, “Okay, so maybe this costs me a $1.10 at a local organization, as opposed to $1,” but think about the big picture and how that really impacts how the community flourishes. And there’s going to be a lot more focus on sustainable procurement as we go along. So, it’s been said before, when we know better, we do better. And I think this is one of those times that we’re ready to do better.

Carol Izzio (16:06):

And the other part of the question is, what am I proud of with my team? Well, this is what we really focused on these past four or five months, is we’ve said, “You know what? I don’t want to just have a sustainable procurement policy that is just a paper. I want to have one that we can actually work towards some true action to it. So, can we see what that looks like?” And, for us, we define sustainable procurement as achieving the social economic, environmental, and financial goals, as I mentioned. It’s encouraging economical development. It aims to minimize environmental damages. And it maximizes value without compromising ethics.

Carol Izzio (16:48):

So, we need to make sure that we’re doing all of those different things to make sure that we may be procuring a very large company, but we’re going to ask the questions of who do you employ? Do you employ local? So, if it’s a big construction company, what percentage of local employment do you have? If it’s environmental, what do you do to help with the environment and the carbon footprint? So, all of these questions we can ask and we can be very fair, and transparent right upfront. We’re not going to start saying, “Okay, so if you’re manufacturing internationally, you can’t bid on this contract,” that’s not the sort of thing we’re going to do. But we are going to look at it very succinctly as to what can we do from day-to-day?

Carol Izzio (17:34):

Small purchases too, they’re always looking at and key cards we spend $500 here, $500 there on little things. Maybe we can buy local with our key cards. Maybe we can look to doing that sort of thing, because I think it’s really for us to recognize that we can all be a part of the solution. I’m the director of procurement at Sheridan, I don’t have to be the director of procurement to develop all these things, and be the only one that can help because we’re putting a policy in place. Everybody can do something every day. And I think the sustainable procurement piece is really important for everybody to embrace, and to look at.

Rachel (18:12):

No, that’s great. I’m glad you highlighted that mentality of ownership, it’s important for people to have.

Rachel (18:17):

And I wanted to actually go for a moment into, let’s say someone is listening now, and they’re obviously in purchasing governmental, let’s focus on that. If they haven’t been able to… Or sorry, if their organization doesn’t have a sustainable procurement policy like yours does, how would you recommend they start approaching even that narrative internally? Because I could see there being a bit of a dichotomy between your organization… Or purchasing, I should say, always trying to propose the most cost savings in your solutions. And so, how did you balance the two variables there?

Carol Izzio (18:48):

Yeah, I think one of the things is we did a lot of research. And I mean the one thing we did for this procurement sustainable procurement policy, or the section in the procurement policy is we actually hired a coop student for their coop period and had them help us do some research. And really it’s all about getting other information of things that people have done. Sustainable policies, in municipalities, they already have a lot of them, City of Toronto has a sustainable procurement policy. There’s a whole bunch all over the country. And then, we also have organizations that deal with sustainable procurement across the country. So, the whole piece is research.

Carol Izzio (19:32):

There’s a Canadian sustainable procurement organization that we joined. So, we have a membership with them now. And they have a ton of resources of things that they’ve done. They can help write policies. They can help put together PowerPoints. I think when we start seeing things like the dollars spend, and what gets reinvested back into the economy, I think that really is in black and white. And it’s very easy for somebody to look at that, and accept it, and kind of know it.

Carol Izzio (20:02):

I know, for me, when you think about buying something, is it easier to go to Amazon and buy it, or the local Canadian Tire, or Home Hardware? Well, Amazon is pretty easy, but we need to look at that as our own personal practice and say, “Could I do something a little bit different? Could I look at that and say, ‘Okay, if I buy from Amazon five times in a month, can I take two of those purchases and buy local?'” And still not do anything drastic. But I think for people that are out there, I would say do the research, look at the Sustainable Procurement Organization of Canada, they have a ton of resources. Just Google sustainable procurement, and you’ll get a list of things. And reach out to a lot of the environmental sustainable groups within your organization because environmental is always the first thing on the list.

Carol Izzio (20:55):

So, they have sustainable procurement, but it was only environmental to make sure that we weren’t contributing to the carbon footprint of the college, or the healthcare organization, or whatever it is. Now, it’s so much more than that. Now, it’s social procurement, which is let’s see what we can do about keeping our communities healthy, people in jobs, making sure that we can support people who have smaller companies, or who want to start entrepreneur groups, and let’s try and support them.

Carol Izzio (21:24):

So, I think that I would say the research for us was really key.

Rachel (21:27):

No, that’s great. I’m glad you highlighted before how even though the pandemic, COVID that is of course, was a global problem it really highlighted local impact on suppliers. And so, really key.

Rachel (21:38):

On that note, I did have a closing question for you, Carol, which was before we close every week we ask our guests what is the number one piece of advice you’d give to people starting their career in public procurement?

Carol Izzio (21:50):

So, starting their career, I would say the one biggest thing in public procurement is be open to change. And just don’t get fixed into one idea because I know that everything is evolving. We have Supply Ontario that is developing. That’s going to be the catch all for certain things in Ontario to procure. So, don’t be afraid of that. That doesn’t mean you’re going to lose your job. It just means there’s another avenue for you to look at procuring through.

Carol Izzio (22:19):

I would say, ask a lot of questions, participate in as many webinars that you can, learn about different things. The one thing I always say to people in procurement is don’t be afraid of suppliers. Don’t be afraid to talk to suppliers because a lot of people go, “I can’t talk to you because you just want to sell me something and I’m gonna not be able to do that.” The suppliers know their products, they know their industry that they’re in really well. They know what the trends are. Ask them lots of questions.

Carol Izzio (22:47):

Like I would say, make sure that you’re asking as many people in different groups as you possibly can to healthcare, to education, to municipalities everybody is looking at the same things a lot of the time. Just because we are different sectors doesn’t mean that we are procuring very, very similar things. So, talk to everybody that you can about it, but also be okay with change, be okay to adapt. Change is a constant in procurement. And as we saw through the pandemic, it became really highlighted. I would say there’s a lot of opportunity in the next couple years in procurement in Ontario and Canada as a whole.

Rachel (23:27):

No, that’s great. Your advice was so rich too. The curiosity component, as much as it’s valuable for those starting out, I hope people don’t lose that element as they evolve to your point to their career too.

Carol Izzio (23:38):

Yeah, no, asking questions and being curious about things, and not being afraid to try new things. I think innovation, when we talk innovation, it’s not about an innovative product. It’s not about this person has this innovative product that we want to procure. It’s about the way you procure. Be innovative about the way you procure. And be innovative about the tools that you’re using to help you procure. So, that to me is the innovation for procurement people is just embrace innovation any way you can. That’s key.

Rachel (24:07):

I want to thank you so much, Carol for your time and the great conversation. And I did want to ask if you’re comfortable, how could listers get in contact with you if they did want to learn more? Is there an email, or LinkedIn you’d be happy to share?

Carol Izzio (24:20):

So yeah, they can email me right at Sheridan. So, I have my Sheridan email. So, it’s carol.izzio1 because not only did I work at Sheridan, I was a student at Sheridan, so they still have my student email from years back. So, it’s Carol C-A-R-O-L [email protected] So yes, if you ever wanted to reach out. And I’d be happy to answer any questions, I certainly have seen a lot. I’m by far not an expert, but I’ve certainly seen a lot, and have enjoyed the time in procurement because in 15 years it’s evolved significantly.

Rachel (24:59):

I love how full circle that is too, that you came back to Sheridan after all that.

Carol Izzio (25:02):

I know I was a student many, many years ago. And now I’m working. So, yeah it was exciting to come back because I found a little bit of familiarity with where I was.

Rachel (25:12):

Thanks so much, Carol. And thank you again for your time today. And you left us even on that cliffhanger of the innovation topic. So, might have to bring you back on to just talk about innovative approaches to procuring in itself.

Carol Izzio (25:26):

Yeah, no, that’s great. Yeah, that’s great. I’d love too.

Rachel (25:28):

Great. Thanks so much, Carol.

Carol Izzio (25:30):

Thanks Rachel.

Procurement professionals like you are the lifeblood of public sector organizations dedicated not only to supporting your agency, but the constituents you serve. That’s why we’ve created the Inside Public Procurement podcast here at Bonfire, a unique place where you can share stories and discuss the topics that matter to public procurement pros. From digitization and the future of public procurement to ensuring a fair and transparent process. We’re all about finding new strategies to help your agency succeed. Join us at gobonfire.com to learn more.

You’ve been listening to Inside Public Procurement by Bonfire. If you like what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. And if you have an idea for an episode or want to come on as a guest, email us at [email protected] Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next time.

 

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