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.