NASPO® Pulse

Bob Sievert, NASPO Chief Information Officer: Enter eProcurement

June 08, 2020 National Association of State Procurement Officials Season 1 Episode 7
NASPO® Pulse
Bob Sievert, NASPO Chief Information Officer: Enter eProcurement
Show Notes Transcript

We discuss eProcurement with NASPO's Chief Information Officer, Bob Sievert. Bob talks about eProcurement then, and now, how COVID-19 has affected states' desires to implement a system, and how NASPO can assist states who want to understand eProcurement better. Make sure to check out Bob's webinar, eProcurement: What It Is & What It Isn't, Tuesday, June 10th at 3:00 pm ET. Register for that HERE. Got a comment? We would love to hear from you—email [email protected].

Kevin Minor:

It's episode seven, lucky number seven of the NASPO pulse, the podcast by NASPO, where we are monitoring issues in state procurement. We've got our fingers on the pulse. I'm your host, Kevin Minor. In this episode, we're talking eProcurement. All right, don't shut us off, I know that that's a scary subject, but it's okay because we're here today with NASPA CIO, Bob Sievert. Bob has spent the majority of his career learning eProcurement collecting copious amounts of data, best practices and lessons learned with other States. Currently he's aiding multiple States and integrating an e-procurement system, various levels. I'll be honest folks. I didn't realize how many layers were involved in this topic. Obviously we don't cover them all in this interview and that's okay because Bob is doing a series of free webinars. He's going to discuss the difference between procurement automation. eProcurement in terms of systems, solutions, and outcome. He'll also explore the fundamental reason of why do eProcurement, very compelling. He's going to talk about the potential benefits and outcomes that make this effort worthwhile. Especially during this coronavirus pandemic. This first one's going to be June 10th at 3:00 PM Eastern time. I'll make sure to put the registration link in the bio for you. It's important to be a part of these presentations, regardless of whether you're an intermediate or advanced in eProcurement, whether you're implementing a system for the first time or whether you've had one for years, it's going to get you to the level where you can ask more advanced questions and you can hit the ground running. All right. Enough of my gab, let's take the pulse. Bob. Thanks so much for joining us on the pod today. How are you sir?

Bob Sievert:

Doing great. Kevin, looking forward to a chance to talk about something that's obviously interesting to you and me

Kevin Minor:

Obviously. And it's not only interesting, but it's very important. So Bob, you are the chief information officer for NASPO, but you've had a notable career that has led you to that point. Can you briefly talk to us about your experiences in procurement

Bob Sievert:

Briefly? That's always a challenging thing with me, Kevin, you know that, so , um, yeah, so I was blessed to be a Commonwealth of Virginia employee for 21 and a half years. And the vast majority of that was coming up and putting in place and e-procurement program for the Commonwealth of Virginia, a very privileged opportunity with that. So a longstanding thing , uh , there that let me take it from a whiteboard idea to fully rolled out and the way that the Commonwealth did business , uh, I left the Commonwealth of Virginia 2014 and spent a few years helping States as a consultant , uh, and do that. And we'll talk about that a little bit more. And then ultimately , uh, in 2018, I was able to , uh, get blessed yet again, to become a NASPO employee as the CIO and pick up , uh, supporting States with the procurement.

Kevin Minor:

So now you are the CIO chief information officer and what are those responsibilities look like?

Bob Sievert:

Well, that was a great thing about this opportunity. As I said , uh , I left the Commonwealth of Virginia and my whole reason to leaving was to go help other States or do this thing where we're going to talk about today.

Kevin Minor:

So that actually brings me to the main reason that we wanted to speak to you today. It's a little thing called eProcurement. Now I know basically I'm going to give you my definition of it, tell you what I know about it, which is very little, and then you can tell me how wrong I am. Okay. So basically what I know about is it's purchasing and selling of suppliers and services and exchanges of data throughout the internet, but it's way, way more than that. Can you elaborate?

Bob Sievert:

Yeah. And this is really important to me that , um, we , we help everybody think of this the right way , um, for the purposes of the role that NASPO is playing in this and the realities of what States are living through, we should think of it a little more broadly. First of all, anything you're trying to do as a state to automate the way you do procurement and any aspect of your procurement falls on this umbrella of what we're calling you procurement and the role we're here to help and support. So it could be as little as somebody just trying to automate a piece of what they do in their day to day business about selling and buying and those kinds of things. But the larger definition of e-procurement is, is very much along the lines of what you described Kevin. It is about trying to take every aspect of what is the process and the business of procurement. So if you think about that, you need to think about who all is involved in procurement, every state employee who needs something to do their job, that needs it to be bought, to do their job, a good or service. And it's everybody involved with PR giving authority to do that. So if somebody says, I need a desk, well, somebody's got to bless that and say, it's okay. So those people are involved too. And then it's the suppliers that you buy it from. They're involved too. And then there's the finance people who have to make sure that it's covered in the budget and it gets paid for. And so every imagine this, every process that's involved with getting that all to happen is what really is the bigger picture of procurement, any procurements about tools that let you automate that. So you get efficiency, you get a better prices, you get good competition, you get open procurements because one of the missions that's core to this public sector procurement is that we're open, we're transparent. And that we, everybody that wants to do business with the state, an opportunity to do business with the state, all covered with under the umbrella of the rules and restrictions that the States have to live under policies, the laws and all of that. So e-procurement is about enabling that with technology, all those aspects, all those people, all those players, while at the same time enforcing and making sure you follow the rules and follow the regulations. So that's what he procurement is yet. We can still water it down where necessary to people who need to target just certain pieces of their process. So it's , it's pretty broad and that's a big part of the party. We, what we bring to the party,

Kevin Minor:

but you know, and one of the biggest pieces of public procurement is you are a steward of the taxpayers' money. Right? Exactly . So how does e-procurement help with that? Okay ,

Bob Sievert:

well, you know, that's a great question because that's one of the main stays at haunch . Sometimes the procurement offices is that they get criticized a lot about, well, it takes too long, or maybe you're not getting the best prices or maybe it's , you know, there's a perception thing that unfortunately comes around sometimes as people feel like, well, maybe the same supplier to getting all the opportunity, but the reality is that's not what happens in procurement. And unfortunately it'd be because it's not visible what going on in the processes , um, you , they can't see that there's really good work happening there. And that's a big part of this taxpayer thing, the tools we're talking about, the thing that's called e-procurement now brings the opportunity with where things have gone on the internet and the tools and the technologies come out, right ? You can bring those tools in to help you gain all the efficiencies and the better competition, but by the very nature of those tools, they bring the transparency that lets procurement show what's really going on. And let you bring that public transparency both internally to the political world and to the managers, but also to the taxpayers, you can easily as just a byproduct of using these tools, let that visibility happen

Kevin Minor:

and that visibility can help with buy-in too, right? Yeah,

Bob Sievert:

absolutely. So it can help with mine in the sense that , uh , it makes the supplier community aware of there's opportunities to go sell to the state that they may not have been aware, never known before. So important. It's huge. It's huge. And that's , you know, it goes back to part of the mission statement that public procurement has our suppliers that are out there trying to sell our taxpayers to . So it's not just about the citizens who are paying taxes to the , and the covenant government coffers, but these suppliers, people trying to sell the state are taxpayers as well. So they have this whole continuous position of having a right to have access to the business. And that is a fundamental practice that all of our CPO live and breathe every day. And they, they strive to make it happen no matter what may come out in perceptions , these folks work hard, their staff work hard. They believe in this mantra far beyond what is sometimes given credit for

Kevin Minor:

right. While, while still being able to protrude accountability, transparency, and avoid a conflict of interest.

Bob Sievert:

Absolutely all of those things and , and do it in a way that's still efficient. And still, you know, we have a lot of conflicting policies. I mean, we have all of our States have this interest, right. And rightfully so to get businesses business down to the small business that are the, the machine behind the economy. Right. And it's so easy to just grab the big companies out there and just give them business. But our procurement communities don't do that. They focus on the mission, which at some times may look like we're taking longer because we're trying to get those opportunities. And that's where he procurement cycles back into this. If we leverage technology, then we can have our best shot at having the cake and eat it to where we can have the open doors, leverage the tools to give us access to the procurement needs and the controls procurement needs, but speed it up. So it doesn't come down to feeling like it takes too long.

Kevin Minor:

So I know a procurement has come a long way just in the past decade. I mean, the internet is only 20 years old and some change. Can you talk about how it was and say the nineties compared to today?

Bob Sievert:

Uh , I started in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1993, just to give you a perspective. So I was right dab in the middle of the nineties technology. And what happened in the nineties? We didn't have the internet, as you said a minute ago, the Internet's only been around as we know it, you know , for 20 years or so. I mean, that takes you back the nineties, this effort to improve and make things better. And procurement has been there forever. And when you look back in the nineties of what they tried to do from automation, what they had available without the internet, it was a lot less to work with. There were less choices. So about the only thing they could do was try to grab on to very typically what happened is they would get a finance systems that had some purchasing , uh, functionality in it, you know, requisitioning and cut POS and that kind of thing. And that was all they could bring to the party for the procurement office. Unfortunately, those tools tended to be very oriented on processing things too , for the finance purposes, to manage the budget and to get a P O invoice paid. So they weren't necessarily designed to help procurement do their job better. So there was a lot of times in the nineties, it was about buying these very, very expensive finance systems, putting them in data centers that the States , because there was no internet, which means you had doors locked to groups like suppliers, right? Give them some share of this automation because it was behind the locked doors of the data center of the state. And then the internet came along and that's when the world changed. And that's what made things come around. Be able to have a new possibility. And that's, what's been real interesting about this whole thing, nineties, up to now and how it's come today. Now we have a whole industry called eProcurement industry, right? It even early two thousands. When I got started in this program , a thing , there was very few companies doing what we call e-procurement now bringing these automation tools in the world's changed. It's changed because of the technology has dramatically grown. We've all experienced it in our personal life was shopping and buying online integration . Exactly. And all that technology comes around and now you can seamlessly connect really great procurement tools to those finance operations without harming anybody or adding extra work. That's, what's exciting about it now. And also typical of this technology change. I mean, prices have come down, you and I have watched the cost of a laptop computer go to where it's almost a throw away expense. Now look at our cell phones. They're more powerful than laptop computers, right ? So those costs now have changed the whole dynamic . So now there's an opportunity to really think about this thing differently.

Kevin Minor:

So you've collected a lot of data on this subject, obviously. Um, but a lot of it you've, you've been able to collect by actually going to these States and helping them, which state are you currently assisting? And what does that involve?

Bob Sievert:

Yeah, so it's really been cool is that, you know, I left Virginia. I had , um, you know, 20, almost 15 years really of actual experience of things. And I brought that experience in the way of actual examples to take, to help other States right now, just to give you a laundry list of the, some of the States I'm working with , uh , I've got Alabama, Maine, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia, that I'm actively working with on e-procurement initiatives,

Kevin Minor:

assisting them all at the same time,

Bob Sievert:

at the same time at different levels , different places. So yeah ,

Kevin Minor:

that's, that's a lot of States to be communicating with and helping , um, with such a broad topic at one time. Can you just kind of briefly walk us through some aspects of that help, what that looks like some of your responsibilities?

Bob Sievert:

Sure, sure. And it's kind of a life cycle thing, typical with any real procurement. Um, so the States have been interested in e-procurement and procurement automation for a long time, but you may recall that, you know, Nashville out this top 10 , uh , initiatives focus every year, top 10 priorities priorities, right. And it, and if you were to look back over the last several years, I mean even longer , uh, even back to when I was still in Commonwealth of Virginia e-procurement and procurement automation has made the top 10 every single year. So it's been a focus and interest to the stage , but to dive into it, there's a whole process that goes into that. Um, the outcome of an effort will typically result in an RFP that a state puts out to ask for some kind of computer system or service to help them do it fully procurement system or some portion of it. But the work that goes into that, that I've been helping States goes back to that earlier step of looking at themselves and saying, am I ready to be automated? Is there things I should be doing? Um, what kind of re you know, you gotta prepare for an RFP, there's certain aspects of the RFP that you have to take work to get ready. You got to put a whole work etc requirements together. And those requirements are more about looking at your business processes and deciding, well, what part of all these possibilities should I be considering, or do I want to consider to automate, you know , I talked about you think about the players. I talked about everything from an employee saying, I need something. Well, that's a lot earlier than cutting a PO or putting an RFP on the street or a bid on the street . That means you've got to go look at the employees, which means now you've got to say, I can look at how the state's organized around procurement. It's not just about the seat to procurement officer's office. Procurement happens down at the state agency level. And when you look at a state agency, the state agencies are structured like transportation. We, everybody lives in a state where they have transportation districts, right road people. So that's that transportation agency is broken down into districts and you've got people down there. They have practices and process . So the support with the States is all about what do I need to make this automation help those employees down at that level? And at the same time, look at clear up to the processes that happened in the chief procurement officer level down to finance. So this help is about looking at all the , helping the state to look at those processes towards documenting, defining business requirements that ultimately end in an AR end up in an RFP to go get a system or automation helped me do all that. Plus the kind of help we do there. Then it's helping . We help them with all this . I've got lots of templates and examples from all the efforts before, what do you put in an RFP ? What are the components? What do you need to ask for what kind of services are possible? All of these things are stuff that we bring to the party and then helping them actually conduct the art .

Kevin Minor:

So when you, when you take this to the state, when you start, when you engage a state for the first time and you lay all this out for them, are they surprised that they have an idea that this is coming as a completely out of left field? How does that , what's the reaction that you get?

Bob Sievert:

So most of the time it's some surprise it's about , um, not realizing how much they could get in the way of help. I think , um, you know, the journey on this thing called e-procurement and most of our CPOs have been around long enough that they understand a lot of levels of their problems with , they don't necessarily realize this, that how much help there could be. And that's kind of what we bring to the party. So I start these initiatives off just beginning with like you and our times day, but what does he procurement? What's that really mean? And what can it mean to you? A specific state in the, where you're at in your life cycle and what could it, cause we ended up having a state specific definition based on their needs, right? There's a lot of consistency here. You know , it's a lot of consistency in terms of like the requirements we have, we've evolved the set of standard requirements that fit most every state. But then we had to sit down just based on where they're at in their life cycle of needing to automate and what is the political initiatives. They have to weave into it and all that. So that's the kind of thing we help, but they don't realize how much help there is. They tend to have lower expectations about the possibilities are actually because of what they've been through. And I think that's the exciting part. There's so much we can do. They don't have to start from a blank sheet of paper. We bring a lot of this and then we help them adjust it to fit their specific situation .

Kevin Minor:

So it's almost like it's like a template, right? And you can bring it and you set it down. You say, where can we fit in your specific state needs? So, so why, why should CPOs their procurement staff? Why should States care about e-procurement? And especially now with everything going on? Well, two sides to that, of course there's the COVID-19 thing, which we want to talk about how that plays into it. But even before the COVID-19, the

Bob Sievert:

reality is, as we said, the States have been wanting improvements and automation they've been pressed to go do improvements, automation from the people who are their customers, the other States, employees, the people who are trying to get the mission of government done, plus the suppliers want to sell to the state. So they've been pressure for a long time to make procurement better. And of course, as we said, our members, our state procurement officer wanted to get automation into their world for a long time. Why now, why now is because of something we just said a little while ago, the technology has evolved. The costs have come down and now they have a place to get help to go do it. I mentioned a bunch of States who are chasing it right now as with any kind of a procurement, the more States who are trying to do it at the same time, the more power each state has to drive the industry to give them better tools and better prices. And then with our help, we can help them have a better chance of succeeding because we're bringing all this experience and lessons learned to the table. Like I said, they don't have to start with that start with a blank piece of paper.

Kevin Minor:

So unfortunately we do have to discuss COVID-19, it's, it's prevalent, it's, it's ubiquitous right now , um , in the media and in our everyday lives. Um, how has this pandemic influenced the state's interest of e-procurement?

Bob Sievert:

Uh , that's a great question. Um, and as we already talked about , um, you know, we had all these States are already chasing procurement and, and as we both know, I mean, a great deal of , uh , of areas of work, pause in all of our lives and the government's no different and certainly state procurement's not , um, the whole focus is moved to buying what you gotta have right here right now to support this, this, and DEMEC and get it resolved and make sure we don't crop , um, preventing it and stopping it as best we can and still keep the business of government going. I mean, regardless of every state, having to close to state government offices and all the , the business of government still has to happen, even though COVID-19. So what's interesting is while the , you know, these e-procurement projects are in their own different stages of maybe pause there, there's still enough there . They haven't gone away, they're still gonna execute and we're still recording it and helping, like I said, but I think what's interesting to me is that , um , for the States who have not had the benefit of going forward on the procurement and having those projects be sanctioned and blessed, which are still a bunch of States , um, I think this COVID-19 thing in my apparent opinion, and my observation has really brought to focus , uh , for the States who need the improvements that these things can bring, brought to highlight how important procurement is to get things, these critical things bought and timely and make it happen and focus on procurement, doing these hero work just to make it happen. And my God, it should be in taking more hero work than it should. And I think it's elevating the visibility of that, so that I I'm going to predict that these state procurement offices are going to get a lot more support to go and try to get these improvements and go do chase these projects though , the budget question will always come up, right? Because we're always seeing some predictions of budget cuts and that kind of thing. But I think the significance of why do it is going to be less of a, a defend the idea by chief procurement officers to ask for a project. I think it will be, it's brought to light how important that those kinds of improvements are for procurement and for the sake of the state and the mission that state has to do without procurement, you don't get the stuff they need to do their job. They don't do their job. They're not meaning the business of government. And this COVID-19 is just a spotlight on all of that in what I'm observing.

Kevin Minor:

So this is the part where we get to have a shameless, NASPA plug. I know Bob that we are playing on doing a series of webinars over e-procurement because you have so much, and I have seen the binders. So there you have so much information on, in procurement that we're doing a series because we can't fit it all into one presentation. Do you want to talk a little bit about those webinars and what to expect?

Bob Sievert:

The reality is we already have a bunch of States chasing you , procurement . My prediction is that we're going to have more, we're going to have more anyway to begin with. And now the COVID-19 thing is going to give more impetus to wanting to do it. So how do we serve even more States than we're already serving , uh , Nashville as much as we want to be there and are going to be there . Reality is there's only a certain limit to how much we can give. So we need to be creative and find ways to give more and have it be re repeatable, repeatable. And in this concept of repeatable, suddenly always brought webinars to mind and then allow it to be on demand was become the other thing. So what we plan to do is break this topic that you and I have touched on, on the very skim level, top level , great detail of all of the information that I've got to have sessions topically, one hour sessions, a whole bunch of them. We're going to start the first one in , uh , later in mid June, or we're going to start breaking this down and giving this information out in a fashion that can be introduced, but consumed and then consumed when they need it. So that's why it's recorded webinars. And we're going to break it down to enough level of detail that it becomes valuable by a topic level that people can benefit from it. Instead of just having a one hour class that you cover. So many things, they can't absorb it. All right. So we're going to dive into specifics, like we're going to cover , um , things like , uh , what requirements know , what are the requirements you need to put into our RFP and how do they look and how do you take advantage of what we've already got? How do you evaluate a proposal that's specific to this topic? How do you address the change you need to consider for your organization? These are all individual topics. We're going to weave into the webinar and something we didn't talk about yet, but I wanted to just toss it in here. The role we play, isn't just about finding a system. We help support through the whole implementation process. We play that SME to help you not just ask the questions of what other States are finding work or not work. We've got the expertise of having lived through what works and what doesn't work. So we play that role too. So part of this webinar series dives into that, you're in the middle of implementation and you're having to make some very specific decisions on things like commodity codes . Well, what is , what are commodity goes? Why should I care? What are the pros and cons? Why is it so important to make an early decision that support you for the next 20 years? That's a specific topic or area, for example, in this webinars series, it's fundamental to succeeding or failing in the implementation, right? And then what happens after implementation? So you declare it's done, it's turned on. The reality is this becomes the way you do business, right? And the reality is it's a living, breathing thing that goes on. So we even want to cover that kind of thing on the webinar series, help say, what F what should I do next? How do I grow? I mean, you're going to pick something and you outgrow it. Now you've got to have what's next, right? Just like you said,

Kevin Minor:

Bob, do you have any advice for our listeners before I let you go?

Bob Sievert:

Oh, so much advice. There's so many felonies and so many parties . Good advice. Do you have any good advice? Well, that's always questionable too. So I think, I think the important thing here is , um, it's easy to be scared off by , um, all of this thing called e-procurement, because it feels so big and , and it can be costly. It can be very expensive, but it doesn't have to be. And I think the advice here is to give yourself a chance to consider doing this thing by bringing us in and having this conversation. That's how I always start with the States. Um , no matter where they're at in the cycle of trying to automate whatever, one of the first things we do is I like to come onsite and we just talk about what they're experiencing now, and what's the possibilities to get better. And it doesn't have to be an all encompassing effort. It could be scaled down to fit, whatever we were living through. Now, you don't have to wait until there's time to do it all because you'll never do it. You got to take that first step. The first step, the real first step is going to be having a conversation.

Kevin Minor:

Well, I know I've enjoyed our conversation today. Bob Sievert, Chief Information Officer of NASPO. It is a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for your time today.

Bob Sievert:

Always a pleasure, Kevin and I look forward to us finding more opportunities in the future.

Kevin Minor:

What are your thoughts? Where is your state at on e-procurement? Maybe Bob has already paid your office. A visit. Did this discussion intrigue. You perhaps allow you to dip your toe in the proverbial water as it were. We would love to know email us [email protected] Again, just a reminder that Bob's webinar titled e-procurement what it is and what it isn't will be June 10th at 3:00 PM Eastern time. So make sure that you registered for that, that link is going to be in the bio. You can also go to naspa.org, get it, make sure you like subscribe and follow on Spotify, Apple podcast , or wherever you get your listings. You do not want to be the only one who didn't hear the pulse. Make sure to check out our blog at pulse.naspo.org and catch up on your daily dose of procurement reading. Thanks for listening. I'm Kevin Minor until next time.