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LA Metro CIO Says Agency Wants Ideas, Even Unsolicited

The IT chief for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a Techwire Member Briefing that innovation is more important than ever as the bus/rail agency navigates COVID-19 restrictions and seeks to bolster its cybersecurity and data-sharing capabilities.

The IT branch of the sprawling Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is still open for business, its chief information officer said Wednesday — and he wants to hear from vendors.

In an online Techwire Member Briefing, CIO Bryan Sastokas spelled out what’s changed at his agency in the era of COVID-19, what’s stayed the same, and what vendors should know about doing business with his agency. He was joined in the briefing by Dustin Haisler, chief innovation officer for e.Republic, Techwire’s parent company. Saskotas was CIO for the city of Oakland in 2015 when he was named by Government Technology magazine, also part of e.Republic, as one of the nation’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers. (A link to a recording of the briefing will be published in Techwire when it’s available.)

Sastokas, who’s headed IT for one of the nation’s largest transit agencies for the last two and a half years, noted that LA Metro has a specific vertical under its Vendor Portal for “Unsolicited Proposals” — those ideas that come not in response to a Request for Proposal or other solicitation, but proactively from vendors with new ideas on how to continue to improve and streamline services.

These proposals go through the city’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation (OEI), which is following the state’s Request for Innovative Ideas (RFI2) model — a reversal of the traditional procurement model.

“The standard approach for executing projects at public agencies like Metro is for the agency to lay out design parameters and ask the private sector to submit plans to meet them,” the Metro portal explains. “While this approach allows Metro to select the most qualified contractor or to receive the best price, it doesn’t always spur the innovation of doing things differently or doing different things.

“OEI implements an alternative approach through our Unsolicited Proposal Policy. Instead of defining what we want, we lay out goals for what we hope to achieve … and ask the private, non-profit and academic sectors to get creative and offer Metro its perspective on how best to meet LA County’s transportation needs.”

And those unsolicited proposals have some encouraging metrics for those interested in making a pitch:

  • Since establishment of the (unsolicited proposal) policy in February 2016, Metro has received more than 200 unsolicited proposals.
  • Of those, 33 proposals have been advanced to Phase II, and 26 proposals have been advanced to implementation.
  • LA Metro has awarded seven contracts as a result of unsolicited proposals, completed six proofs of concept, and issued one lease. Several more contracting opportunities are in the pipeline.  
  • More than 150 subject matter experts from various Metro departments have helped OEI evaluate these proposals.
But while the door is open to new ideas, the agency has backed off on some others. For example, since the COVID-19 pandemic caused some reductions in LA Metro’s schedules, hiring by the agency is down.

“One of the biggest projects we were looking at was on-boarding software for our Human Capital Development team,” Sastokas said. “But we’re not in the hiring phase at the moment, unfortunately … so we’ve pushed back on that effort.”

Sastokas said the agency hasn’t backed off, though, on three strategic areas: cybersecurity, open data, and collaboration with other public agencies. LA Metro is talking with the city of Los Angeles, for example, about possibly sharing some cybersecurity resources.

Like a lot of government agencies, Metro had already begun allowing some staff to work remotely before the COVID-19 restrictions, so telework protocols didn’t start from scratch. The shift, Sastokas said, was “fairly seamless.”

“Two-factor authentication, VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), collaborations like Zoom and Teams — we had already implemented a lot of that,” he said.

Sastokas said agency leaders are beginning to look ahead to the next shift: They’re beginning to train managers on how to “re-onboard” remote workers for their return to the office.

Sastokas advised vendors to continue submitting unsolicited proposals through the Unsolicited Proposals portal, which contains a host of other links of interest to those seeking to do business with the agency.

Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.