Conn. simplifies tech buying

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

at all."

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.

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