Procurement Sucks: Let’s Do Something About It!

The time has come to rethink our approach to government services. Fact is, what we’ve been doing isn’t working and it’s time to change. Government is woefully behind in its thinking in the vendor space—our goal should be partnership and innovation, not just procurement.

The traditional RFP process used by most communities doesn’t value innovation and disadvantages new startup vendors with potentially disruptive products. Conversely, it also doesn’t value “vendors” who function as true partners in delivering services: organizations who believe what we believe. These two gaps in the procurement equation inhibit our ability to build high-performance governments—governments that are employing the best of themselves and their partners to service our residents.

As someone who has participated in dozens of RFP selection processes as a procurement team manager, I have witnessed just how arbitrary the process can be at times—weighting, scoring, sections, formatting, submission style, background, impressions, professionalism, etc. There are a multitude of factors we use that are not truly focused on service delivery, but are about the procurement process. It’s time we stop being a slave to the procurement process and start building the outcome we want: partners that help us achieve amazing service delivery for our residents while helping us be fiscally responsible.


One of the keys to building great government service delivery is employing vendors that function more like an extension of our intent in service delivery. These aren’t just vendors. Vendors sell a service or product, offer little or no support on the back end, and are in it to make a sale—not help us provide a better quality of life for our residents. I’m sure we can all think of examples of a vendor that hasn’t delivered on what they promised or makes very little effort to help us after the sale.

On the other hand, a partner knows what we are trying to accomplish and is committed to helping us get there. They believe in what we are doing for our residents and share in the risk of service delivery. Partners are invested in our outcomes and that relationship should run both ways. Government needs to help indemnify its partners from risk as they perform work for us.

But, we’ve built an RFP process that does not value or build in partner language or scoring. While I’m a big fan of competition in most aspects of procurement, I think we need to consider how we approach the difference in partners: those that are an extension of us versus those just waiting to collect a renewal fee. We need to build “partner factors” into our process and scoring, and share risk to build partnership. The relationship we are seeking is long-lasting and reciprocal.


The other gap in our government procurement process is how to work with new, disruptive concepts. We need to open ourselves up to new vendors as potential partners. As a chief innovation officer, I had the chance to see dozens of presentations from upstart and innovative vendors, several of whom we found a way to work with. But, it took work to get there each time. Many of them couldn’t even get time with other communities to demo their ideas or were run through an endless maze of bureaucracy.

Government needs to make a more concerted effort to interview and review new upstart ideas that have the potential to disrupt and improve how we innovate service delivery. Otherwise, we are missing out! By partnering with “upstart” companies, my team was able to win two national awards for innovative resident service delivery. This kind of disruption is necessary to keep pushing the bar higher, and increase adoption of great technologies and services.

I want to implore any government leaders out there to add in a quarterly review of “new” products and proactively look for innovative solutions by inviting demos. Build a cross-departmental team of influencers or decision makers that will hear the ideas, and give each vendor 30 minutes. This way, potential partners have a chance to be heard by a panel in a timely manner, and your organization is actively seeking innovations that best meet—or disrupt—your needs. Keep in mind, this is also the perfect time to include existing vendor partners who have significant new features your team should see.

This approach reduces scheduling conflicts, allows everyone to prepare, and increases exposure to great ideas. Consider using this review panel to “fast forward” traditional procurement processes and speed up the process for everyone. The time to procure a product or service is one of the single largest pain points for governments and vendors. Let’s do something about it.


Until recently, the other missing piece of this puzzle was shared visibility in how we as governments experience vendors. GovLaunch created a platform for communities to shop for partners so we could share our thoughts on what products and upstarts deserve our attention—and which vendors are truly partners in service delivery. And no, I’m not being paid to say this—it’s been a big missing piece of the puzzle. How do I know whether a vendor is just a vendor or a partner? While I'm sure that it's not the perfect solution, it is most certainly a step in the right direction.

Government has needed a way to share vendor experiences so that we can create a community where both great and poor partner practices get highlighted. This is a lot of right thinking that’s time is overdue. Oh, and I personally think that vendors should be able to rate us as well for how well we do as partners, but that’s a discussion for another time…

But for now, I challenge you to join me and short-circuit your outdated RFP process for something that values real partnership and encourages innovation. It's time. Team Us.

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