The public sector hasn’t exactly reaped the rewards of rapid advancements in technology, but things are changing thanks to forward thinking procurement professionals and civic technologists. These people have collectively spent the past 5 years (post-Healthcare.gov) hacking away at the technology procurement space, and we were lucky to speak with three such individuals on a special episode of the Public Procurement Leaders Podcast. Our goal was to learn why a small increase to the federal micropurchase threshold (MPT) from $3,500 to $10,000 is actually a pretty BFD.
The biggest takeaway is that micropurchasing adheres to lean and agile principles by reducing the risk of experimentation and forcing project owners to adopt a modular development approach. According to Mark Junda, a Director at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Technology Acquisition Center, “There’s a lot of opportunities to actually start building a project, where you’re bringing in deliverables that are building to something greater, not just one off ideas to see if they work. It’s a legitimate project building opportunity, and we’ve started that with some of our API work at VA.”
Try It Before You Buy It
Micro and modular techniques are a derivation of the “try before you buy” approach that has eluded public sector IT, with its history of megaton requirements documents and scale-tipping contracts. According to Keith Deavan, a usability expert and President of Media Barn, Inc, the increased MPT “opens the doors to a lot more lower cost, high value type things like a focus group or usability test.”
His company specializes in user experience and human-centered design, relatively new concepts to government, and is optimistic that a higher MPT will streamline the acquisition process and let agency personnel get their hands dirty with promising new techniques. “At the $10k price point, you can actually really add value to the program, but also give [government professionals] a great introduction to what the benefits are.”
Stretching Out The Micropurchase Authority
There are some challenges to consider when using micropurchase authority, but micro and modular methods help more than they hurt. One challenge is that of scale; how does an organization go from a small pilot-based solution to something it can diffuse throughout its sprawling enterprise? One way is to think along the same lines as Junda, where micro procurements of discrete deliverables can be patched together in a “single stream acquisition,” something Harrison Smith described after his episode of the Public Procurement Leaders Podcast.
Chris Cairns, an early thought leader in the govtech and microconsulting space who has written much on the topic, shared precisely how this challenge can be navigated. “The micropurchase authority allows you - as long as what you’re procuring is in itself independent and severable - then you can string multiple micro procurements together to meet a larger requirement.” Government professionals interested in applying micro and modular methods to their customer’s needs should consider how to craft requirements that reflect independent and severable components, but the effort has the potential to pay major dividends.
Thanks to our Esteemed Panel!
We appreciated the time and attention our guests gave to this episode, and want to thank them for their vision and leadership in the government technology space. We at Public Spend Forum are excited about the promise of these techniques, and have heard them affirmed as recently as our Technology Procurement Symposium on June 6th in Los Angeles, where multiple speakers espoused the virtues of starting small and building in modules.
We’ll see what the future holds for govtech and micropurchasing, but with leaders like these and others in the space, at least we know we’re in great hands.