Massachusetts updates procurement


Massachusetts, once a leader in electronic procurement, is revamping its 7-year-old COMM-Pass system to automate more services for state and local agencies, universities and other public authorities, schools and vendors.

When the work is finished, the Web-based system will have significantly more features than it currently has now. The commonwealth actually decided to overhaul COMM-Pass two years ago, but didn't have the money after shortly selected BearingPoint Inc. to do the work. The project "almost died," said Mary Kurkjian, a company director who heads its New England state/local and education practice.

BearingPoint proposed an alternative financing approach — that is, paying the upfront development costs and recouping its investment through subscription fees imposed on vendors. BearingPoint expects the approach, called a self-funding model, will yield $4.7 million in revenue over the life of the 5-year contract, which will more than cover their costs, she added. Afterwards, the company and Massachusetts will share revenues, another attractive component of the contract for the state, she said.

"It's definitely a trend," Kurkjian said, referring to the self-funded method. "We are seeing alternative financing of [information technology] projects to be very hot as a subject within state and local government. I think this time around everybody's a little bit smarter. They structured deals to provide more stability to the government if things fall apart. They don't want to be left high and dry."

While agencies were always able to post requests for proposals on the site — an innovation when it first debuted — the new COMM-Pass will let them request electronic bid submissions from vendors. Agencies will also be able to track the life cycle of the proposal by monitoring the site or receiving messages when activity on a proposal occurs. That could save them money and paperwork, she said.

Vendors will be able to electronically submit bids and personalize the portal to track changes in a certain proposal or have information sent via e-mail to more than one person within the company, said Kurkjian. Before, the system could only handle one e-mail address.

Contractors will also be able to request access to a competitor's winning bid through online Freedom of Information Act requests, she said. Companies with the winning bid will also be notified that a competitor has requested such information.

Currently, Massachusetts offers vendors a $275 annual basic subscription service, which started about six months ago, but few signed up for the option service because "a lot of vendors didn't think it was worth it," Kurkjian said. The state is currently looking at the fee schedule and may raise it because of the planned enhancements, she said. While vendors are not required to subscribe to the system, they will not get the value-added services if they don't pay the subscription fee. They will only be able to download a request for proposals in PDF format and print it out.

Kurkjian said the company established an advisory committee with vendors and buyers to get feedback. She said the company is also responsible for marketing the system to users.

Massachusetts state agencies purchase $5.2 billion in goods and services from more than 11,000 businesses every year.


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