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Innovation and the Public Procurement Process

Innovation and the Public Procurement Process
Moving to an interview-based procurement process could vastly expedite the current approach to procurement at public institutions.
Over the past few years, much has been written about higher education’s failings, its need for change, and the potential of disruptive innovation. While many of the publications are on target, some of the opinion pieces have been strictly based on the hype of the day. Instead of lumping higher education into a big pot and saying it has to change, we need to start looking at the various segments of higher education and dissecting key components we can change quickly versus the more complex aspects that will take time to re-imagine.

Therefore, this segment on higher education change is strictly focused on what is likely an outdated procurement process in state-funded or state-related institutions. Today, with the rapid change in technologies around all segments of the higher education enterprise, institutions must find a better procurement process than our current request for proposals (RFP) process. While it is important that we continue to ensure due process to guarantee the proper use of taxpayer funds, we cannot take one, two or sometimes three years to make decisions around technology.

As I mentioned in a recent meeting regarding a current technology, by the time we finish piloting, testing and determining the winning vendor, it will have been a three-year process to implementation. Therefore, we will be making a decision based on where the technology was three years ago, thus making us three years behind on the first day of implementation. So, what are possible solutions to this interesting conundrum we find ourselves in? How can we speed up this cycle while still assuring due process?

While there is likely no single answer to this question, as institution dynamics and practices vary greatly, it is probably safe to say we have to take more of a vendor/client partnership approach to procurement and less of a government procurement approach when it comes to technology systems. As discussed in a recent article by the Forum Corporation, both the vendor and the client need to move to a process where values, opportunities and future needs are identified and discussed.[1] In other words, we could see a movement to an interview process with vendors to find a good business partner instead of simply issuing an RFP based on features and price. Thus, it is not simply about finding a current technology, but about identifying a shared vision around a technological need for the university and its faculty and students. It is more than a learning management system; it is the vision for learning through information and communications technology  in the near future.

Further, it is not easy for institutions to move quickly from one platform to another as we must consider the change process for faculty and students, and thus these new vendor/client relationships should be viewed as long term, albeit with an exit strategy that can be exercised at given intervals.

Even if we move to these new relationships, how can we make these decisions quickly so we don’t find ourselves three or more years behind on the first day we implement a system?

How can we shorten the procurement cycle to six to nine months, and be able to move from testing to implementation in a short time window?

Possible strategies and steps include:

  • Establish a dedicated and trusted team to identify potential vendors, test technology and make recommendations
  • Set aside one month to interview the top few vendors being considered
  • Rapidly test and prototype technology solutions from the top vendor (over one semester)
  • Rely on the expertise of the dedicated team and move away from the RFP process and to sole-source agreement
  • Understand that not everyone in the institution will feel the vendor is the right choice
  • Trust the recommendation of the team you have assembled
  • Start licensing agreement contracts on day one during the pilot, as things are ready to go if the team gives a green light
  • Be willing to walk away from pilot early if the team feels the technology and vendor relationship is not right for your institution. Move on to your second choice as quickly as possible.
  • Be willing to have a technology platform hosted by the vendor

If an institution can become comfortable with a new approach that takes them away from the RFP model, it may then be possible to cut the procurement process down to a year or less around new technology platforms.

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[1] Michael Collins, 2012, “Point of View Selling: Using thought leadership to sell to senior executives,” The Forum Corporation. Accessed at

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