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Real talk on the state of public sourcing at the NIGP Virtual Forum

October 6, 2021 | Bonfire Interactive

Procurement professional looking at state of public sourcing trends

Did you catch this year’s NIGP Virtual Forum? It was an action-packed conference full of forward-thinking ideas, latest trends, and actionable insights for public sector procurement professionals.

If you missed our session on “Procurement Priorities in a Post-COVID World,” this blog post is for you! We’ve got all the highlights, including hot takes from our expert panelists on how the pandemic has shaped procurement processes, strategies, challenges, and next steps in 2021.

The stories behind the data

During the session, Bonfire’s own Rachel Friesen, Director of Client Experience, sat down with our three featured public procurement experts:

Each panelist shared their own experiences to illuminate some of the top findings from our report on the 2021 State of Public Sourcing. The report looks at Bonfire client data from 2019 to 2021 to measure how public procurement opportunities and challenges have shifted as the pandemic has evolved—impacting everything from project volumes to eProcurement adoption. Here’s a snapshot of some of the highlights from their conversation.

How did the pandemic affect your relationships with suppliers?

Our 2021 report revealed an increase in overall project volumes and a resurgence of RFPs as compared to 2020 numbers. With more projects on the go and many agencies switching to fully digital processes, we asked our panelists how the changes have impacted the dynamic between vendors and their procurement team.

Jennifer: I think we were just able to work a lot more efficiently. Previously when we had in-person bids, it was a lot more time consuming. Vendors were always worried if their bid was going to make it on time… And then, when the pandemic hit, vendors reached out to me personally and were just so grateful that [we had switched to eProcurement] and they never had to put something in the mail again… I got a lot of positive feedback from that.

Michael: As far as the move to eProcurement, Bonfire was really one of our first transitions to that. We had been starting this process, pre-pandemic, for years. And luckily we were finished turning everything on… before the pandemic. What I’ve seen is that, actually, we’ve been able to work more closely. It’s more cooperative… It reduces costs for our vendors. They don’t have to travel, we’re not doing hard copies of proposals. So it’s actually improved and allowed us to get more firms to participate and compete because there’s less of a barrier to entry.

How has procurement’s role shifted in 2021?

With the pandemic catalyzing digitization, many public procurement teams were able to automate manual tasks, such as tracking down physical signatures or managing evaluations in Excel. With fewer administrative responsibilities, it follows that teams have greater capacity for higher level thinking. Here’s what Bonfire’s CEO, Omar Salaymeh, had to say on that topic.

Omar: We’ve heard this over and over again that procurement teams wanted to modernize, but they couldn’t. And now [with the pandemic] they had a really good reason to shift. Those platforms end up saving hours and hours of time…. And what do you end up doing with the extra time? What we hear from our clients is now you have time for market research, you have time for scoping and drafting better RFPs, negotiation, diversity initiatives. All of that allows you the headspace and the opportunity to start tackling these larger projects instead of doing things that, quite frankly, computers are really good at doing.

Has remote work impacted your team’s ability to be audit-ready?

The move to digital platforms and processes can carry a steep learning curve—but, for procurement, there’s no “grace period,” especially when it comes to compliance. Here’s how our panelists are tackling the challenge of upholding transparency in a digital world.

Michael: From an audit perspective, where it becomes challenging is when you have multiple platforms that you use… You also have to be aware of trying to cut corners or skip steps. Digitally it can be easy to move around or skip something that could impact the audit trail… I‘m not as worried about it because we’ve been going to a transition to digital working for the past five years or so… But I can definitely see it, especially for an agency that was relying on paper and had to switch really quickly to digital. Having to have records retention tools in place, it really is challenging.

Omar: More and more organizations are using best-in-breed technology to do what they want to do really quickly as opposed to introducing a behemoth software solution that does it all and takes three years to implement and nobody likes to use. I think that nimble approach is definitely the way to go… It also leads to quick results that you can see right away.

How are you adjusting to increased demand and stakeholders?

As our 2021 State of Public Sourcing report revealed, the number of stakeholders involved in projects has risen 49.3% between 2019 and 2021. With more hands on deck, we asked our panelists how their procurement teams are facilitating collaboration and building consensus.

Jennifer: We’ve been able to add a lot more stakeholders… We do a lot of cooperative bids for the 15 towns in the County that may not have dedicated procurement folks. They were able to sign onto Bonfire and see the projects firsthand. So I definitely had a lot more stakeholder involvement and, even internally, with all of my departments.

Michael: We’ve increased our staff size. Using the tools between Bonfire and another system that we use, we’ve been able to coordinate making sure we’re able to monitor workload, shifting workload around so that no one’s completely overburdened. One of the things that we’ve also done is… we’re a regional agency, so we cover nine counties. And within those nine counties, I think there’s 116 jurisdictions. And they’ve been much more challenged through this pandemic than my agency has. So we’ve made an effort to make sure our procurements are available for cooperative use or piggy-backing by other jurisdictions within our agency… It’s not necessarily our volume, but we’ve been trying to help our jurisdictions and our regional partners handle their own resource versus volume challenges.

Ready to put your foot on the gas pedal?

Public procurement teams are racing ahead to a brave, new post-pandemic world. And we’ve got all the insights you need to reprioritize and plan your strategy—now and into the future. Get your copy of the 2021 State of Public Sourcing report to learn more. Watch the full panel session on our website.

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.