Start Spreading the News: If You Want to Be a Part of It, These Leaders Are Making It Happen

They say if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. Would the same hold true for public procurement in the city that never sleeps? Considering the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) sits in the middle of a 40 agency organization and managed $21 billion in spend last fiscal year, it seems like a safe bet.

On episode 10 of the Public Procurement Leaders podcast, we caught up with two leaders who have New York City on the leading edge of public procurement innovation, both in terms of their approach to supplier relationships and how they are incorporating technology into the procurement process. “A decade ago, we spent more time in oversight. But as things have changed, and as more money has gone into different types of services, the question is no longer ‘did you [procure] it’ but ‘did you achieve the goals?’” said Ryan Murray, First Deputy Director of MOCS.

This focus on outcomes is refreshing, and especially important in modern government as priorities continue to trend towards solution delivery and customer-facing services. Ryan’s focus is on contributing value across the procurement ecosystem while working to establish more consistency across all 40 agencies within NYC government.

“Where we are [realizing] the most value is standardizing practices and establishing consistency…a vendor may work with 5 different NYC agencies, and there shouldn’t be incredible inconsistency between them,” Ryan said. That’s not just a process problem; it has a significant human element as well, and one that requires a commitment to workforce development.

Ryan and his Deputy Director, Vincent Pernetti, have shifted their training focus away from teaching rules and compliance and towards sourcing their workforce for better solutions to current challenges. From an adult learning theory standpoint, it’s a refreshing and impactful approach, and one that Vincent takes pride in. “We want to have a curriculum that doesn’t just focus on compliance, but also on better procurement. As we shift from a paper-based process to an electronic process, how do we manage that change?” he pondered.

As the conversation continued, Raj asked about some of the change initiatives that have led NYC MOCS to the front lines of digital procurement. Here again, both leaders recognize and appreciate that tools are only as good as the people who use them. And there’s a key change management theme that underlines their approach, and undoubtedly leads to its success.

Understanding that humans are at the center of digital services can help procurement leaders manage organizational change

“What we’ve learned, especially as we are evolving to digital procurement, is that we can’t forget to put people first. Not just to invest in our teams, but to think about- at every point where change is introduced- who is going to be affected? What is the experience that we’re trying to help them have?” said Ryan, whose change management approach is one that would succeed in any organization and in any sector. “We’ve done the strategic planning exercises, and came out on the other end with an understanding that we need to nurture leadership on the teams. It requires valuing the relationship, not just us asking an agency for documents so we can check their status, but really digging in to understand the value drivers behind their business.”

More importantly, Ryan understands the human interaction when it comes to technology-enabled procurement. It’s not just about getting a task done, but about giving the workforce more time to focus on strategic efforts by automating transactional tasks with a focus on user experience and human-centered design. And when these automations are built, they know who needs to be in the room during the design process.

“We did a vendor registration project that went online last year…we had a staff person who was running [the old] process for 20 years. Without her fully engaged to explain why certain decisions were made back then, we would have lost an opportunity to properly transition to that new system.”

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to include users in the design and development of new systems, especially when those new systems involve digital services. Any NYC customer or supplier owes a debt of thanks to Vincent and Ryan, who possess the vision necessary to understand how to introduce change and make it stick at a sprawling organization like MOCS. Over the last few years, the pair have overseen a significant effort to bring NYC’s procurement operations online.

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Through a series of incremental phases, Ryan and Vincent have centralized vendor management and brought the entire procure-to-pay suite online. Now they set their sights on electronic sourcing with a forecast module that will help vendors understand longer-term procurement priorities across the Big Apple. Has it been easy? “We overcame some of the resistance and doubt about whether it would work,” said Vincent, but ultimately it “was very successful and we built a lot of goodwill. So it’s an escalation of what we’ve done, proof that we can be successful” which gives them the momentum necessary to keep pushing the needle on change.

Great news for anyone that does business with the unofficial capital of the world. And a special thanks to Ryan and Vincent for taking the time to share their leadership lessons with us. Based on their success to date, we’re of the opinion that it isn’t just the city that isn’t sleeping, but these two leaders as well.

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