Easy to use solution is key to purchasing process
In a de-centralized municipality, streamlining procurement processes are a challenge. The City of Jacksonville, North Carolina decided to bring on its first procurement specialist, Angela Stewart, to help guide the process for several Departments. The City’s procurement processes are now “partly centralized”; meaning a portion of their departments do their own purchasing, but the procurement team handles about 65% of the formal purchases. In her seven plus years of service for the City of Jacksonville, now Contract Specialist Angela Stewart has had varying roles in the City’s procurement process and understands them inside and out. The City of Jacksonville utilizes BidNet Direct’s North Carolina Purchasing Group to help automate and expand its purchasing process; both by-department, and within procurement itself.
Stewart explains that it is important that they stay up to do date with not only their own comprehensive purchasing policies, but the ever-changing state and local statutes. The North Carolina Purchasing Group helps maintain the legality of the City’s solicitations, with Stewart explaining “The questions that are asked during the posting are very pertinent to the laws and regulations that we have to follow. So that’s very helpful for us to check that box to know that any vendor that’s out there looking at the posting on [the Purchasing Group] will see that on the surface, without having to dig through our sometimes 300-page RFP.” The questions that Stewart mentions are part of the solicitation notice creation process on the platform and help ensure that Jacksonville doesn’t miss out on any crucial details of the posting. “Those things that [BidNet Direct] has on the website regarding the bid bonds, the performance bonds, the MBE section you have, and different features like that make your website very helpful” Stewart says.
Training & on-going support
Although the City had utilized BidNet to manage and publish bids for years since they originally looked to formalize the processes, the North Carolina Purchasing Group was launched as an individual platform in 2016. There was a slight learning curve involved in the change, including new features, enhanced functionality, and greater benefits to the entire group of City buyers. BidNet Direct’s Buyer Support team makes this learning process as easy as possible to participating buying organizations, from refresher training on a specific feature to on-boarding when an organization first starts to use the solution.
When discussing ongoing help and training, Stewart says “[the support team] helped us out tremendously”. ““Jennifer (a BidNet Direct Buyer Support specialist) and some of the other folks walked everyone through how to use the [new] system.” Stewart continues “It was a fantastic training opportunity, and it was vital to our conversion to the website for us to offer that training to all of our users.” BidNet Direct’s Buyer Support team is also available outside of the “typical” 9 – 5 work day, with availability from 8am-8pm. Stewart knows that no matter the question, the support team will be there for the City and the registered vendors. “It’s very convenient for us to know that BidNet Direct has our back”.
Change to electronic bid submission
Online bidding through BidNet Direct’s Electronic Bid Submission (EBS) is valuable feature that the City utilizes. “There's always a bit of the unknown when you are accepting bid submissions electronically and physically. There is a fear there that you'll miss something along the way” Stewart remembers. However, positive results have been seen to date and the vendor community has submitting bids online. The City and its buyers see the value in electronic submission of bids EBS continues to be used for more goods and services purchases because of the value it brings to both the City and the vendors. “I think it’s a more modern approach to accepting bids, and I would recommend anyone who has the ability to utilize it…I do believe that it is the way of the future and it is probably going to be more streamlined as we progress”.
Ease of use
With the City’s procurement policy only partially centralized, the purchasing process varies among some departments. However, the one consistency is BidNet Direct’s North Carolina Purchasing Group. With so many users on the Purchasing Group – Stewart says the number is somewhere around twenty – it is important that the platform be easy to use. Since switching to the new solution, which Stewart describes as “awesome”, the process of posting bids could not be easier for the City of Jacksonville. Stewart states that “[the platform] exceeds my expectations on many levels…I am highly satisfied with the ease of posting solicitations to the Purchasing Group…. The ease of [the] website is phenomenal, and I can’t say that enough. It makes it very easy to get information out to the public.”
Expanded vendor pool
There are currently over 5,000 vendors registered on the North Carolina Purchasing Group, and new vendors are registering daily. Stewart believes that other local government organizations “don’t realize that [the] bucket of potential bidders is getting bigger all the time”. When explaining the benefits of BidNet Direct’s vendor pool, Stewart says – “At the end of the day, you want to have a very large pool of potential bidders. You want [your bids] to be as competitive as possible, and you want to be able to spend every single dollar consciously. And [the Purchasing Group] has done that for us.”
From expanding vendor competition, to a helpful support team, and tools to modernize the City’s purchasing process, BidNet Direct’s North Carolina Purchasing Group can help local government agencies such as the City of Jacksonville modernize and streamline their bid and vendor management processes. Stewart believes that other municipalities can also benefit from the North Carolina Purchasing Group in the same way that the City of Jacksonville does.