Level the playing field - and everyone's a winner!

Published: 01 Oct 2014 Average Rating: 5 / 5 Print
This article appeared in Contracting Excellence magazine on 01 Oct 2014 view edition

Author: Bob Gleason and Bob Stewart, Procurement Specialists, Commonwealth of Virginia

US Commonwealth of Virginia's 'mobile' application for all business users of its state-wide e-procurement system (eVA) is the latest development in its innovative operations.

Imagine a mobile app that transparently opens up all public procurement opportunities in real-time to businesses large and small wherever they are - too good to be true?

Not in the Commonwealth of Virginia, US, where just such a new app has been launched.  It is the latest innovation in the ongoing development of the state-wide e-procurement system, eVA, which has already proved highly successful, cost effective – and valued by users.

Since eVA's original launch 13 years ago, the system has processed more than $45bn in orders, upwards of 153,000 bidding opportunities (solicitations), and generated savings of more than $338m. eVA includes more than 90% of Virginia's total state spend. Continuous development has seen it grow into the seamless operation of today, demonstrating the commitment and vision of local leadership at all levels.

In an interview with Roselle Harde, Senior Director of Global Sales at IACCM, Bob Gleason, Director of Purchases & Supply within Virginia's Department of General Services and Bob Sievert, Director of the e-Procurement bureau talked about eVA, the new mobile app, and what it has taken to get to this point.

What exactly is 'eVA?'

eVA is a web-based vendor registration and purchasing system readily accessible to all Virginia state agencies, colleges, universities and many local governments to use in conducting all their purchasing and sourcing activities for goods and services.

Sourcing functionality supports sealed, unsealed, and reverse auction procurements and includes public posting, vendor invitations via email and e-fax, accepting electronic bids/quotes and proposals, and placing orders/contracts electronically (email, e-fax, cXML, EDI). Purchasing functionality includes on-line requisitioning, contract, non-contract and punchout catalog shopping, dynamic approval workflow, electronic order delivery to the vendor and on-line receiving. The system also includes full electronic integration (real time and batch) to multiple ERP/Financial systems.

The new mobile app, referred to as eVA Mobile 4 Business, can be downloaded free to a smart phone or tablet. It brings all this functionality to users wherever they are. “It is a great tool to leverage the power of the overall e-procurement system – it's an amazing force multiplier for everyone, so they do not have to be sitting at a computer,” said Gleason.

“Users have at their fingertips a searchable public listing of current and past business opportunities, with on-line access to bid documents and details about each procurement. Results are posted to allow tracking of the entire process. Basing the app on a mobile web application linked to the existing e-procurement portal means it can run on multiple end-user devices, using that device's calendars, contact lists and phone etc, greatly simplifying maintenance and development, which does not then have to be device specific.”

“It's not just big guys getting the opportunities - small guys get an equal shot at it as well”

Within Virginia's e-procurement system all are winners – but small businesses are among the biggest. They are alerted immediately to any new business opportunity, and have transparent, instant and equal access to all the information they need to compete on a completely level playing field. There is no charge for suppliers to join and only a very modest, capped fee is charged for any actual order placed with a supplier. The numbers of suppliers, including small and economically disadvantaged businesses regularly using the system are testament to the value it provides.

“Currently over 88,000 suppliers are registered on the system, which hosts more than 900 on-line supplier catalogues. Total expenditure for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, was $6.9 bn, with state higher education representing approximately 20% of that.  Since its launch eVA has processed 4.7 million orders, with more than 700,000 transactions processed in the last fiscal year alone. There are more than 13,700 registered users representing nearly 850 public bodies across the Commonwealth, including state and local government, as well as all Virginia public institutions of higher education.”

State of the art e-procurement shows transparency pays

An exemplar of best practice and what collaboration can achieve, the Commonwealth of Virginia may have 'hit the market' at the best possible time when it started building its e-procurement system eVA 13 years ago.

Sievert, director of Virginia's e-procurement bureau, helped design the system: “When eVA was first launched online thirteen years ago, we instantly noticed savings – and savings continued to build to an average of $30m a year through increased competition. This has proved transparency increases competition, which in contracting is a very good thing. It also gives a clear view of how state government is spending taxpayer dollars.”

Confidentiality is a prime driver

Sievert explained: “No-one has access until the contract has been completed.  Proprietary and confidentiality rights for suppliers and the business process itself are protected under FOI (Freedom of Information) statutes, until after the award has been made.”

The system also enables a full audit trail. Purchasers can browse on-line supplier catalogues, see purchase histories, place and track orders and manage the resulting contracts.

Sellers can see all of the requisition details, from buyer information to bid documents and details about each procurement. The new app allows them to approve or deny the requisition and also add comments.  The system remains open until the solicitation due date, but once bids are received the system is locked down, results are posted to allow tracking of the entire process.

Advanced tools integrate with supplier catalogs

eVA uses advanced tools to integrate with supplier catalogs and ERP systems of key users so that they can benefit from the same functionality. It provides a really effective change management function.

“The negotiation stage is often a long and complex process with many more steps, but once the award has been made anyone can see the 'winning price' and 'winning bidder'.”

The system is seamless and completely paperless. Sievert explained: “Working with our development partner CGI Technologies and Solutions Inc we have added and expanded capacity to fully support our expanding network of users, who know they can trust it completely. There really is no need to print anything out.”

eVA sparks wide interest, proves hard to replicate…for now

Not surprisingly, eVA has received many awards and glowing testimonials from users.  But although other US states - and nations across the globe – have expressed keen interest, none have managed to get anything similar off the ground. “It's a question of time, understanding, complexity of the organisation and leadership,” said Gleason.

Gleason is an active member of NASPO, the National Association of State Procurement Officials, a non-profit association made up of the directors of the central purchasing offices in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of the United States. Through it, member purchasing officials provide leadership and share information to improve the quality and effectiveness of professional public procurement.

His advice for those looking to replicate Virginia's success? “Perhaps the largest obstacle for states to overcome is to recognize that their agencies and institutions form a single enterprise from a procurement perspective. It's critical to gain the collaboration needed across the enterprise in order to assemble the data in a single location. Breaking down parochial boundaries and interests for the common good of the larger enterprise is difficult work.”

Sievert added: “Virginia succeeded because it chose not to dictate uniform workflow processes across the enterprise but, rather, focused on uniform data standards to ensure data could be aggregated and reported in way that ensured transparency in procurement.”

Developed in partnership with CGI Technologies and Solutions Inc, the eVA Mobile 4 Business app can be downloaded free from the Apple and Android app stores or can be accessed from a mobile device browser at the eVA App Center http://eva.virginia.gov/pages/eva-apps.htm

Utilizing the powerful iOS platform from Apple Technologies and the Android application framework, eVA Mobile 4 Business is a rich and innovative app that delivers an 'application-like' experience to internet-enabled mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry etc).



Bob Gleason has over 20 years procurement experience in both private and public sectors. He presently directs the state's Division of Purchases & Supply (DPS) as chief procurement officer for the Commonwealth. Responsibilities include the state's e-procurement system (eVA), state procurement processes, statewide agreements, and regulatory governance and oversight of Virginia's procurement policies and procedures. From 2006-2013 he directed procurement for DPS's parent organization, the Department of General Services (DGS) and from 2000 to 2006 he worked with the Virginia Department of Information Technology (DIT) as an IT Contracts Manager and helped to manage contracting activities through their transformation to the current Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA). Sievert is a graduate of VMI.

Bob Sievert joined state government in 1993 as an IT Project Manager to lead key re-engineering projects.  After completing assessments for statewide procurement, agency accounting, facilities management, and risk management business areas, he became the visionary for eVA.  He has over 32 years of systems, e-commerce and re-engineering experience in a variety of industries including power utilities, construction, aerospace and manufacturing.  He is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute with Bachelor degrees in economics and civil engineering.

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