The city of Milpitas is among California municipalities that have found a way to shrink the timeline for writing RFPs and bids, analyzing them and then managing contracts.
“The best example is that we received a grant recently to help under-resourced seniors stay connected during the holidays, and we needed 55 laptops delivered within 17 days,” DeVine said. “Working with our previous firm, going back and forth with Word docs would have taken us about that much time just to get the terms and conditions finalized.
“With ProcureNow, we worked with our senior services manager and staff person in real time, making changes, getting live updates and discussing (the RFP). We were able to turn it around by the end of business that day, and within 17 days we had our first shipment delivered on the deadline.”
Thao Hill, ProcureNow’s chief customer officer (CCO), said Milpitas was among the company’s first customers, and added that the company recently signed its 50th government agency. (The Sacramento Area Council of Governments was their first customer.)
The original business model was to create an RFP writing tool, Hill said, and the company had pilot projects with Philadelphia and Boston. Once the company developed a more robust platform, the city of Santa Monica also signed up because it wanted an integrated procurement platform that included RFP writing automation. When Milpitas contracted with the company, city officials worked with the company to release a contracts automation module.
“We are driven by the visions of our customers,” Hill said.
The platform consists of three modules — customers can combine one, two or all the pieces. The first is Collaboration — intake management, RFP and bid authoring, and approvals workflow. Next is Sourcing, consisting of vendor management, electronic bidding, and online evaluations of proposals. The last piece is Contracts — developing contracts, managing terms and expirations, and providing a transparency portal that gives the public insight into the life cycle from initial bid to award contract language.
The platform is built to be intuitive, so if a government is looking to purchase something relatively straightforward, like bus parts, the built-in questionnaire automatically deletes sections that aren’t relevant. For more complex procurements, the system walks staff and vendors through those complexities.
Hill explained: “We identify the processes and build automation into the software, so the system asks them questions to write the solicitation. That’s unique to what we do — no one else in the government e-procurement industry has that. We develop a list of procurement questions in the software (for staff to answer) and, depending on how they answer those questions, the system gives them the clauses that are appropriate.”
Walter Rossmann, Milpitas’ deputy city manager and until recently finance director, agreed that the system is flexible, noting that Milpitas this year needed to add a question about whether a purchase was related to COVID-19.
“We’re under direction by the City Council to save money, so we ask if a procurement is related to COVID and if so, do we need to expedite it? If we don’t do it, what will the impact be? We asked (Hill) if we could do it on Day 1, and on Day 2 we got it working,” Rossmann said.
“It changes the way you develop solicitations,” he said. “It’s a collaboration tool. We jumped from a word processing operation to a collaborative tool, and it really moved us forward.”
DeVine said that at Rossmann’s direction, the city will soon be using the platform for citywide contract management as opposed to just purchasing.
“Within 60 days, we’ll have all city contracts in one cloud-based system, and that will be real advantageous,” he said.
Hill said the company’s customers are mainly local and regional agencies. The Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County, joins Santa Monica, San Francisco International Airport and Tucson, Arizona as some of their larger local government customers.
“Our vision is to focus on local government for now,” Hill said. “There’s a ton of need for what we do, and we don’t want to take our eye off the ball.”