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Why “making it work” is no longer working for your procurement team

April 19, 2021 | Bonfire Interactive

Scissors, thread, and a measuring tape for making a "patchwork" item—not unlike creating a patchwork procurement process

If COVID-19 has proven anything about public procurement teams, it’s their impressive ability to, in the words of Project Runway host Tim Gunn, “make it work.”

Tim Gunn "make it work" meme 
Of course, the high-stakes pressure of responding to a global health crisis doesn’t quite compare to the fabricated TV drama of a runway-design reality show – but the “make it work” mantra still rings true.

Making it work is how public agencies adapted on the fly when the pandemic turned business upside-down overnight. It’s how paper-based procurement teams ran more projects than ever, even as processes shifted fully online. And it’s how they delivered essential goods and services despite unforeseeable disruption across global supply chains.

But “making it work” was never meant to be anything more than a temporary fix – an agile response to a global emergency. It becomes incredibly risky when that mentality – what we call “patchwork procurement” – becomes your status quo. Let’s explore why.

How the pandemic drove patchwork procurement

Like the Project Runway designers who weave scraps of fabric into gowns worthy of the red carpet, procurement teams at the start of COVID-19 had to cobble together whatever tools and resources were available at the time to create a workable procurement process.

We refer to that approach as “patchwork procurement.” Before the pandemic, teams using a patchwork system may have been relying on manual processes supported by in-person meetings, disparate tools, and one-on-one discussions. 

In quickly adapting to remote work, patchwork agencies didn’t have a strong digital foundation to build on. Instead, they introduced a medley of digital tools and processes, from accepting emailed vendor submissions to evaluating proposals using Excel spreadsheets. 

For the most part, these changes simply replicated or even exacerbated the inefficiencies of paper-based systems.

The risks of patchwork procurement

If you belong to the 43% of agencies that made temporary patchwork changes during COVID-19, it’s time to reevaluate your tools and processes. Here are three major reasons why.

Audit trail gaps

Despite the pandemic, public procurement is still held to the same rigorous compliance standards as always. Unfortunately, the more systems you use, the more opportunities there are for audit trail gaps. And all it takes to start a lawsuit is for one vendor to challenge your process.

If you’ve been using email to receive submissions, it’s especially important that you reconsider your strategy. Not only can technical issues, such as junk mail filters, firewalls, or slow internet connections disqualify vendors unfairly, it’s also impossible to prove when emails were opened, leaving you with an incomplete audit trail. 

Inefficiency and administrative overhead

Working across disparate systems is unavoidably difficult to track, but it’s also inefficient. Patchwork processes and tools introduce overly complex workflows that only create more headaches. 

In the early days of the pandemic, getting staff, stakeholders, and evaluators up to speed on multiple systems and processes created a backlog of work and delayed progress in awarding urgent bids. On top of the unmanageable amount of training required for non-procurement users, teams face other barriers to productivity caused by siloed systems, including time wasted on searching for misplaced files, answering questions, correcting confusion, fixing human errors, and duplicating effort.

Lack of transparency and collaboration

With public sector budgets being slashed and procurement teams being called on to reprioritize projects and save costs, it’s vitally important that all stakeholders and internal clients have visibility into the procurement pipeline and timelines.

Unfortunately, this is something patchwork procurement typically can’t deliver. Without a centralized, accessible hub for tracking projects, it’s more difficult to make strategic business decisions, reprioritize projects, and collaborate with senior leaders and managers.

On the other hand, teams that have transparency into their pipeline will be fully equipped to navigate the razor-thin margins of the next few years and make smart, collaborative decisions.

What now?

For many months, your procurement team has been hustling to get ahead of the disruption caused by the pandemic. So, rethinking your processes and tools—again—is probably the last thing on your mind. The truth is, it’s the only way you can prepare for the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.

The good news? You’ve already taken steps toward digital transformation. To get support on the rest of your journey, check out our new resource, The Rise of Procurement’s Next Normal, designed to help you understand and navigate the new landscape of digital procurement.

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.