Conn. simplifies tech buying
- By Patrick J. Walsh
- Jun 05, 2000
Whether they're dealing with the most tech-savvy buyers or an uninitiated
first-time vendor seeking to learn how the IT procurement process works,
the recurring theme of new programs launched by Connecticut's Department
of Information Technology (DOIT) is to make IT buying easier.
A direct approach heavy on communication and information sharing is the
common thread between two of the department's recent initiatives, which
are aimed at simplifying how IT business processes among the state's 130-plus
agencies, towns and municipalities.
Launched in November, a new online ordering system for computer parts, peripherals
and accessories is designed to give agencies more flexibility and less paperwork
when ordering upgrades and replacements.
"Agencies can set up the system to work as they do," said Kris Wohlgemuth,
a purchasing service officer. "They can have a blanket purchase order for
a set amount of money or they can authorize individual buyers to place items
in a shopping basket that is then forwarded to a purchasing officer, who
places the order. Orders are processed within 24 hours, and there's no paperwork
The program originated with a single agency that approached DOIT director
Donald Maloney with a request for a process less complicated than the traditional
shopping around for quotes, getting approvals, creating a purchase order
and waiting for the order to be processed.
The system provides a single source for items such as scanners, memory
upgrades and modems. It doesn't include the purchase of complete PC systems,
software or printers, which are governed by pre-existing state purchasing
contracts, Wohlgemuth said.
Reaction from participating agencies, towns and municipalities has been
positive, she added.
"It's a neat approach because it's paperless. It saves a lot of time
and money, and buyers can go to one place to buy parts, peripherals and
accessories," she said.
The streamlined, easy-to-use buying mechanism is based on a "best available
pricing" procurement model that eschews discounted catalog prices and obsolete
equipment "deals" for standardized pricing and reliable terms. If an agency
finds a better price, DOIT follows up on the alternate source to ensure
that the final price is the lowest possible.
"There are some technical people in agencies who are very good at finding
better pricing, and if an agency finds a better price, we will check on
it to make sure that the purchase conforms to our terms and conditions and
that we are getting the best available pricing," Wohlgemuth said.
On the other end of the purchasing spectrum, Connecticut has also launched
an innovative series of public meetings designed to bring vendors and agencies
together with the DOIT staff to simplify the process of doing IT work and
other business with the state.
Initiated in December with the aim of clarifying the rules and procedures
in the IT purchasing process, the meetings have attracted about 15 participants
from agencies and the vendor community each month.
A representative from DOIT addresses each group with a presentation explaining
buying procedures, such as how to find out about the state's IT needs, how
to fill out a bid and how the contract award process works.
"We get a lot of phone calls from vendors and agencies," said Pat Tower,
a purchasing service officer. "The forum is intended to provide a way for
individuals at our agencies and in the vendor community to meet with us
and get more information more easily."
Opening the sessions to internal and external constituencies fosters
a more supportive environment while helping the DOIT staff better understand
the needs of purchasing agents and salespeople who populate both ends of
the procurement cycle.
"A lot of vendors don't really understand what we do, and they have questions
about things like RFPs and invitations to bid. By inviting our vendors in,
we're letting them know that we are interested in them and we learn how
to work better with them," Tower said. "We learn as much as they do."
—Walsh is a freelance writer based in Peekskill, N.Y.