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State Execs Discuss IT Procurement, RFI2

Officials from the California Department of Technology and the Department of General Services recently discussed how they're trying to improve the IT procurement process and work together more closely to benefit fellow agencies, vendors and residents.

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The state’s process for doing IT projects continues to evolve but two of the key agencies involved are working more closely, top procurement and tech officials said recently in a conversation that highlighted their roles to the vendor community and offered options for departments.

In a panel session at Techwire's recent State of Technology - California Industry Forum in Sacramento, Department of General Services (DGS) Director Daniel C. Kim;, Angela Shell, DGS deputy director of the Procurement Division; and California Department of Technology (CDT) Director Amy Tong discussed how their agencies have updated their working relationship since CDT was renamed and moved under the Government Operations Agency (GovOps) in 2012. Among the takeaways:

• CDT and DGS have improved communication on procurements during the past year, Shell said. Generally, however, DGS remains the chief procurement officer on statewide initiatives, Tong said — and CDT focuses on “individual projects that are tailored to individual departments.”

“We use CDT as subject matter experts to identify what are the user requirements,” said Kim, who moderated the panel. The two agencies — both under GovOps — collaborated along those lines recently on developing a solicitation targeting IT vendors with Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) Mod certification.

Request for Innovative Ideas (RFI2), Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new “flexible approach to procurement,” represents a change for both agencies. RFI2 is based on the concept of Public Contract Code 6611, which allows negotiation with vendors, Tong said. But from CDT’s perspective, RFI2 moves proofs of concept from the independent market research phase into procurement.

Shell said DGS has had to adjust to the idea of a problem statement being thrown out to vendors “to come in and say ‘OK, tell us how you might fix this,’" where more traditional procurements might have had a well-defined scope up-front.

“That it is very different from what we’re used to,” she said.

• RFI2 is valuable, but not automatically the right choice for an IT procurement, Shell and Tong agreed. It’s an innovative way of doing procurement, Shell said, in that the state opens itself up to hear from industry in a nontraditional way. But, she added, it’s labor-intensive for departments as well as CDT and DGS, and requires a lot of resources. Tong said RFI2 is just one of the unique tools in the procurement toolbox. She suggested departments working on an IT procurement make sure to do their due diligence and consider using all those tools, pointing out that DMV held a vendor day — another tool — in October to solve its own tech needs.

“We need to help that department to get to that solution with the best value that they can find,” said Tong, who is also state chief information officer.

• One of DGS’s biggest aims is to always make its procurements one of the easier methods for departments, Shell said when asked about short- and long-term IT goals. The RFP, she told more than 170 attendees on Dec. 2, should be a department’s last resort, indicating DGS will always advocate for more efficient ways of doing procurement. DGS has added entities to its Software Licensing Program (SLP), to increase departments’ options, she said, suggesting offering “the entire catalog” to agencies needing to make a purchase instead of holding them unnecessarily to set criteria that restrict purchases can assist in that process.

Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.