Procurement: Your Strategic Partner
By Emily Cranfill, Procurement Content Manager, NASPO

At NASPO, we recognize the value of connections not only between our members in different states but also between suppliers and state procurement staff. In a world increasingly focused on strategic purchasing, suppliers who develop positive professional relationships with state procurement offices will find themselves better positioned to earn a state’s business.
When it comes to the state procurement cycle, suppliers might think it best to only become involved during the solicitation process, but this represents, in many cases, a missed opportunity. Because approaches to public procurement are increasingly strategic, a supplier who waits for a solicitation to be posted may be missing the chance to personalize their offerings to the state’s needs. They may be putting energy and money into misguided or incomplete solutions. Similarly, a supplier may not be known to the state procurement staff and may miss the opportunity to be considered for a particular project or contract in the first place. A lack of awareness and lack of relationship can cause harm to suppliers and state procurement offices alike.
There is, without question, a balance to be struck by suppliers. Imagine you’re in your local grocery store: we’ve all been followed around a store by a really dedicated salesperson who can’t seem to understand that we’d rather be left to browse on our own. Conversely, there are times we really need a little help and can’t seem to find someone to ask. Suppliers to state procurement must find the same balance of availability, curiosity, and respectful distance. The better acquainted a supplier is with a state’s procurement office and its staff, the more successful they will be – not only in achieving this balance, but in understanding and positioning themselves to support the state’s needs.
Relationship development within public procurement has become even more critical in recent years; due to the variations in demand and the impact on the supply chain throughout the pandemic, everyone – from a state’s local buyer to the Chief Procurement Officer to a supplier’s distribution center forklift operator to the president of the company – has had to reconsider the way purchases are made and supplies are acquired. It benefits suppliers and state procurement staff alike to think more and more strategically about the needs of each state. Proactive stockpiling, inventory management, and effective market basket development are all potential solutions to the volatility seen in the market.
Suppliers who want to be increasingly proactive in their business with states should consider the state procurement staff as strategic partners. As with a manufacturer’s supply chain, it is possible to forecast changes in a state’s needs and to prepare for those changes. Perhaps a state has been purchasing the same IT hardware for several years but is planning to refresh their infrastructure. Maybe the Department of Corrections is working on a lighting project and would benefit from their supplier keeping a particular model of LED bulb in stock. The more a supplier can learn about the current and future needs of a state, the better they can position themselves to meet those needs.
We all win when we work together, from the forklift operator to the CPO. As the public procurement market continues to adapt and change, NASPO and NASPO ValuePoint believe in the benefit of connection between suppliers and their state partners.

COVID, Connections, and Your NASPO Community

No one could have predicted the COVID-19 emergency and the effects it continues to have on our daily life. Face-to-face interactions, shopping for goods and services, even playdates, and birthday parties all came to an abrupt halt in the spring of 2020. Since then, we have all experienced extreme change – paperless offices, electronic signatures were changes that happened almost overnight. As we shifted to this new environment, our personal interactions also changed. Holiday gatherings became Thanksgiving Zoom calls – and sometimes those were highly entertaining as Grandpa navigated the technology and joined the online conversation.

Our relationships may have shifted to a different platform, but they never lost priority for us as human beings. Staying CONNECTED in tough times is essential, and our procurement community worked tirelessly to make sure the wheels of state government continued to turn, taking meetings at 2am to talk to suppliers in Asia, working 7 days a week for months on end, staffing Emergency Operations Centers to meet demand for PPE, overlapped by natural disasters like hurricanes and fires.

The pandemic forced us to find new ways to connect, new partners and suppliers, and different ways of making transactions happen. The NASPO Community was invaluable as a sounding board – helping to identify suppliers who could deliver products on time and within budget, anticipating supply chain challenges, and facilitating conversations between various functions in state government to solve problems, meet the public need, and serve constituents.

Today, the impact of COVID-19 is being experienced in the form of supply chain disruptions. During the early days of the pandemic, procurement officials improvised a variety of solutions to get critical PPE to health care workers and vulnerable people, from using statewide trucking networks and partnering with Civil Air Patrol to fly supplies to remote areas. Once again, relationships are essential in procurement. The connections and the relationships we nurture make the difference when it comes to working through challenges and coming up with innovative ways to address them.

Overall, the pandemic proved two main points related to state procurement. First, relationships are essential. Developing and maintaining key relationships helps state procurement respond more efficiently.\, like the National Guard and state health agencies. Increased efficiency impacts multiple facets of procurement including cost, whether it is actual dollars spent or the cost of manpower and effort, and time.

Second, procurement needs a seat at the table during the planning phase. The COVID study showed that states with strong relationships with their emergency management agencies had a stronger response than those without. Typically, the procurement function is an invisible one, if things are working correctly, and our customers have what they need. As soon as there is a delay or a disruption, procurement is put in a reactive position. Imagine if procurement was included in planning discussions and had the opportunity to be proactive, rather than reactive, for much of its purchasing operations?

Connections are key. Relationships are essential. And working together makes us all better. In times of change or emergency, connections and relationships are even more important. And the NASPO organization is committed to being a facilitator of those relationships, having the right conversations with the right people, and elevating the procurement function so that it becomes a strategic priority in state government.