By Michael Arthur, Federal Business Development Leader at Ivalua
The nature of Public Sector Procurement demands a high level of sensitivity to perceptions of processes, communications, and access. This involves the perspectives of immediate stakeholders, agency leads and the general public, but it also includes the perspectives of suppliers participating in solicitations or seeking opportunities to work with the government. Creating a positive supplier community experience is essential to maintaining critical relationships and to drive optimal results on current and future projects.
The overall ease of supplier engagement is determined by their ability to discover business opportunities, manage interactions with the state, locality or federal agency, and stay informed. Because the vast majority of supplier engagement is facilitated by technology platforms, the supplier experience needs to be positive from the first time they see a public solicitation, through account creation and onboarding. These experiences determine the perception they will work under during the rest of the opportunity.
Intuitive Workflows & UI
Too many contract officers struggle to work with Procurement solutions that have poor user interfaces (UIs). They are aware of the role this challenge plays in discouraging potential suppliers and in dampening their final results. Consumer purchasing applications have come so far that suppliers are no longer willing to suffer through archaic technology – even to win a government contract. Not only do clumsy workflows increase the time (and therefore, the cost) associated with a solicitation, but they also create the impression that Public Sector decision-makers do not have the same performance and quality standards as commercial prospects.
Transparency = Trust
One of the worst possible side effects of a solicitation is when a supplier protests the award decision. If suppliers already have a poor opinion of the process, either because of difficult communications or cumbersome technology, their trust in the decision-making process may also be diminished. If they feel that their proposal was not properly evaluated, this combined lack of confidence can quickly turn to protest. If, on the other hand, investments are made to build supplier relationships and smooth the onboarding process, there is a considerable upside, especially with smaller businesses. Metadata that tracks small business spend simultaneously promotes fair competition and alignment with policy objectives, leading to transparency as well as trust.
Happy Suppliers are Engaged Suppliers
Meeting supplier usability and transparency expectations may seem like the right short term objective, but big picture goals for Public Sector Procurement need to do more than ‘check the box’ on supplier satisfaction. While it may be a driving force, just avoiding a bid protest does not necessarily mean a supplier engagement was successful. The supplier experience – actually user experience in general – has been neglected for far too long. The resulting gap between commonly used Procurement platforms and B2C purchasing websites has created a misalignment that contract officers must address by making real investments in the supplier experience.
At the end of the day, the Public Sector wants to work with the best suppliers available, and suppliers want to have opportunities to seek and secure government contracts. It should be category objectives and product or service specifications that qualify and disqualify suppliers, not their ability to tolerate Procurement technology and methods. If it is too hard to identify solicitation opportunities, participate in the evaluation process and transact in general, suppliers will invest their business development energy elsewhere – a lost opportunity for both sides. Fortunately, with new technology, it is now possible to achieve a consumer-like experience for users and suppliers while meeting the unique requirements of the Public Sector.
Join us at the Ivalua Public Sector Procurement & Acquisition Summit in Washington DC on 3rd April 2019, where the Ivalua team will showcase how innovative Public Sector leaders are transforming procurement today, and the technology that will drive the next wave of value.