Change is brewing in the world of government contracting. Not that we should be surprised. There’s a wide-sweeping emphasis on “modernization,” and agencies at all levels are consistently evaluating ways to refine their solicitation and contract award processes to maximize the value of every dollar they spend. But, perhaps ironically, there are many situations in which it no longer benefits you to have the lowest priced solution or even the latest innovation solution, unless you can demonstrate that it’s the greatest for government.
There are many instances in which agencies will award contracts to vendors with the lowest-priced bid, as long as they meet the minimum criteria. “Best price” is typically used for commodity and service category purchases, such as office supplies or janitorial services. On other occasions, securing the “best price” will be the goal, but additional evaluation criteria will be considered to ensure the best priced-solution is also delivering the “best value” overall. We dig into this more in this blog, but don’t always assume the lowest price will make you the top contender.
As reported by Public Spend Forum and Spend Matters recently, there is a government-wide “move to solutions that are market-proven and mature.” And while these two publications breakdown the latest federal contracting changes, there is an increasing preference at all levels of government to procure proven solutions. Especially when it comes to IT or other major systems.
Agencies need to make fast, effective changes to improve the efficiency of government business and better serve their customers, meaning you the taxpayer. They can’t afford to disrupt operations, add complexity to already challenging processes or risk having to rip-and-replace systems multiple times to find the “right” solution. That would be wasteful. Plus, the government is contractually locked in with certain vendors, systems and services for a year or more in most instances. So, if they pick the wrong platform or service – if they choose the most impressive technology system based on simulated demos and find later in real-world deployments that it’s not suitable for their workflows or compatible with their other systems – then they are stuck. The last thing they want is to fail their internal agency customers or their constituent customers.
Nevada’s procurement administrator Jeff Haag articulated the reasoning behind changing definition of “best in class” quite well in a recent webinar about the state’s efforts to improve the procurement experience for both buyers and suppliers. When Nevada first solicited for a new eProcurement technology system, state leaders thought that they could benefit from the cool flashy eProcurement solutions being used in the private sector. But, after careful evaluation of those solutions’ capabilities, they started to question whether the architecture and toolsets of these “latest” platforms would be the “greatest” for the public sector environment. Although they may have proven to be “best-in-class” solutions for Fortune 500 organizations, at the end of the day, Nevada decided that it needed something that was proven to deliver the exact functionality and user experience that the modern government business model dictates. They just weren’t confident those private sector solutions would translate well to the public sector or be truly compatible with existing business system frameworks.
This sentiment is being echoed in headlines and interviews with procurement leaders as it relates to technology buys more broadly, whether they’re seeking blockchain, artificial intelligence or basic computing systems. That doesn’t mean the government is going to abandon incubator or small business-stimulating programs such as SBIR that encourage innovation. Or that they are going to automatically disregard the latest and greatest IT systems and service architectures. Innovative or advanced can be good, as long as they’re proven to be best-in-class in government environments. Many agencies just can’t afford to be solution “beta testers” to help prove these new systems or services, especially at the state and local levels. Therefore, government agencies at all levels are increasingly choosing to favor “best-in-class” solutions.
Tip: If you’re pursuing a contract that prioritizes “best-in-class” evaluation criteria, be prepared to…
It often proves beneficial to pursue state and local level contracting opportunities when trying to establish your track record. The local preference programs offered in many states, cities, counties and municipalities can be a boon for first-time bidders, assuming you meet the solicitations’ requirements and offer either the best-in-class solution they seek or the best price, depending on their primary evaluation criteria.
Beyond responding to the traditional RFP, IFB, RFI or RFQ solicitations that over 90,000 agencies post on BidSync each day, it may be valuable to become a vendor on a statewide and/or co-op contract. Have the best price on computers, phones, office supplies or other commodities and services? Those charged with soliciting and awarding the co-op and statewide contracts definitely volume pricing discounts. Their customers will collectively generate bulk buys. The discounted pricing available from these “open” contract vehicles often entices state and local agencies to shop for their desired product or service their first versus issuing a new, separate solicitation. Plus, statewide and co-op contracts are pre-negotiated. Meaning, you only have to submit a proposal once – and go through the contract award and negotiation process once – to become a preferred vendor for dozens or hundreds of agencies, depending on the contract’s reach. It’s a win-win. Agencies can more quickly secure what they need, and you can more quickly close sales. Plus, you’ll be able to get your foot in the door with more agencies, which is the first step to proving you have the best-in-class solution. More sales, more deployments, more document successes.
Take advantage of “disadvantaged” entity programs to gain additional preferences. Are you a small business? Consider joining the 8(a) or HubZone programs. Are you a woman, minority or veteran-owned business? Ask each and every agency that you want to do business with – or who has posted a solicitation to which you want to respond – about their certification requirements. Some allow you to self-certify, others use third parties. Either way, the sooner you can register the better. The average solicitation is only “on the street” for about 21 days. You could find yourself consistently scrambling to qualify and prepare proposals or, worse, missing deadlines if you aren’t proactively preparing for bid opportunities. (Conduct this pre-bid assessment and review this “guide to writing winning proposals” to set yourself up for success.)