Lewis and Miller Provide Leadership to Edge’s Procurement Structure
Although Walter Lewis and Dan Miller first met last year, they feel and act like decades-old friends who now have the good fortune to work together as part of Edge’s procurement team. These two men oversee important positions at Edge, making sure the procurement process runs smoothly and that opportunities are always readily available for Edge clients through timely awards and cost-effective contracts.
Through Edge’s market power, the non-profit consortium alleviates all heavy lifting for members during the procurement process. Edge takes into account large volumes of business and is able to negotiate better rates than individual entities, which is extremely beneficial to smaller members. “We are able to maximize value not just through the buying power, but due to the fact we are a community of like interests, we are able to align those interests to ensure that the solutions being procured are absolutely in line with memberships needs, now and into the future,” Miller said, Director of EdgeMarket and Founder/Owner of Advantiv Solutions.
Highly Specialized Procurement Process
A major component of EdgeMarket is the specialized public bid and procurement process. Rather than each entity bidding individually for a valuable technological solution, tool, or service, EdgeMarket oversees the entire process. Lewis is the Purchasing Agent for Edge, and he manages the process from initiation to the announcement of the award.
Lewis said there are four phases in the procurement process, starting with the initiation step. Questions are asked about vision and the scope of what needs to be accomplished. The next stage includes creating a plan and developing prerequisites with the stakeholders, as well as setting priorities of the requirements. Lewis then publishes the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the procurement of goods or services to the public.
He is always prepared to respond to vendors’ questions, making sure they understand the entire process and the needs of the membership. “I want to make sure each vendor understands where we are currently and what we are seeking,” he added.
The next part of the procurement process is bid opening, which is a formal controlled process. Vendor bids cannot be opened before the due date and then evaluation of each vendor’s response must take place prior to moving to the next step. A short list is created from the bids and demonstrations are arranged with the selected vendors. Lastly, an award is made to the winning bidder or bidders. “After each award is made, I always follow up with a review process. I learn something new even if I’m procuring the same product or service I did four years ago,” Lewis said. “This knowledge always feeds into what we do in the future.”
Through this structured process, Miller also works closely with the membership, providers, and industry analysts to ensure Edge is focusing on the right technology solutions, whether they’re technical, software, applications, or services. Whatever is being procured needs to be able to derive maximum value on behalf of the members and will ensure Edge is doing the right steps at the right time. The entire process has to follow procurement law and best practices. “The real value proposition is ensuring that we are providing a continuous delivery of solutions to our membership when they need them,” Miller added.
Partnership with Advantiv Expands Edge’s Overall Reach
Edge has recently formed a partnership with Advantiv Solutions to advance Edge’s capability from a basic public bid and procurement to one modeled on supply chain management. This collaboration provides the information needed to know which items should be included in the acquisition so the procurement aligns with membership needs at the correct time.
The concept of supply chain management has been around for generations and the principles are employed in virtually every form of business and industry where materials or supplies are acquired. Some supply chains organize the procurement of raw materials that convert into component parts or assembly and onto goods and supplies such as automobiles or computer technology. Perspective is needed for current and future needs so the type of raw materials and processes can be anticipated.
At Edge, Miller said the organization is now applying the principles of supply chain management to provide cost-effective solutions in a timely, efficient, and well-coordinated manner. “Edge is so well positioned and prepared to take this next step. It is a natural extension of the Edge ethos and commitment to member success,” he said. Lewis further elaborated, “Edge works hard to execute a product or service for distribution to the membership in the most streamlined and cost-effective way possible. Contracts generally last three-five years, and the cycle begins again towards the end of each agreement.”
Advantiv provides Edge an application called DecisionDirector that makes the process easier and more effective through automation and stakeholder engagement which leads to clarification and alignment around vision, expected outcomes, and requirements for the initiative. This is especially helpful in larger procurements that impact numerous stakeholders. DecisionDirector then supports the RFP process through online vendor response collection and analysis, followed by structured evaluations in which Edge members can participate.
Communication is vital and understanding all of the needs earlier in the process helps the procurement teams mediate and resolve issues sooner than later. “When groups are aligned with the vision, goals, and objectives of the initiative, they will buy into the process and understand when there’s disruption,” Miller explained. “The transition to anything new will disrupt the status quo but when people feel like they were a part of something that reflects the needs of their role, they are on board.”
Expansion of EdgeMarket Benefits the State and Region
By partnering with Advantiv, Edge increases its scope, scale, and speed to support public procurements and to bring economic value to their membership and the overall region. “Economic studies have consistently shown that when public procurement is done efficiently, the resulting economic growth in that particular country or sector increases,” Lewis added. “I’m not an economist, but I do know that when the right procurement vehicle is used, the results are the selection of the best product or service at the right price. This service subsequently allows the purchasing entities to bring efficiency to their operations resulting in a direct benefit to their customers.”
Maximizing efficiencies and economic value allows Edge members to deliver even greater service at lower costs to their students, constituents, and communities.“Edge is well positioned to harness the brainpower and anticipated needs of our members so those members who are going to be involved in procurements this year can create a body of work, know how, and experience that can then be rolled up for the benefit of the next wave of their peers,” Miller added. “The power and value of working together is significant.”
Trust the Procurement Process
There is integrity and rigor in the public bid process, and Lewis and Miller have learned to trust the procurement process and the importance of following all rules and steps.
- There are three key important elements that Edge adhere to that make public procurement successful: Don’t discriminate and treat all vendors equally
- Be transparent from start to finish
Lewis noted that bias is prohibited and no preferences are allowed. Contracting authorities must always remain impartial. Transparency is equally important during procurement, as all parties must understand and know which methods and processes are being used and how the contracts will be awarded and managed. Lastly, all bids must be kept in a safe and secure environment to ensure confidentiality during the procurement process and also when moved to archival storage. Vendors place technical information and trade secrets in these bids and this vital information must remain protected. The fundamentals of the procurement process have to be airtight and each step has to follow statute law to make the public bid legal and defensible in the event of a protest or an audit.
Edge views the procurement function as the nexus of strategy and spend, vital to the success of the organization. The procurement process must be followed and considered as early as possible, whether the group is considering an RFP or not. Miller says they coach clients and partners to have all of the groups collaborate strategically from the onset. “We’ve had several examples over the years where we’ve encouraged a large project team and organization leaders to involve procurement from the start because procurement will be your best friends when the RFP time arrives, if they know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
The EdgeMarket Member Portal
Edge is in the process of launching the EdgeMarket Member Portal for their membership, which contains a wide variety of procurement resources and solution summaries in plain language. Questions are answered such as “What is the product or service?”, “What does the product or service do?”, “What are typical use cases?”, “Who is the vendor?”, “Are there any reference points from the vendor’s website or something that would provide a little more insight about the solution?” Methods of procurement will be provided, as well as forms, past background, and board resolutions. Miller added that the documents will be synthesized and organized in an accessible, searchable, categorized manner.
“The portal is a searchable knowledge-base that treats each of these items as articles. There will be a glossary of terms with layman’s terms, profiles of all of the solution providers, as well as the solution summaries available with cross-referencing to make the portal a real resource for those who are not necessarily shopping,” he said. “These individuals are in the business of doing the buying, and the portal enables the purchasing folks to execute the purchase function smoothly and seamlessly.”
Value of Being an EdgeMarket Member
EdgeMarket is a Cooperative Purchasing System, approved by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA #269EMCPS), is available to a variety of public entities, including school districts, public colleges and universities, municipalities, and many others.
Members of the cooperative can take full advantage of the favorable terms and pricing for the growing number of products and services that Edge adds to the cooperative through a competitive bidding process—and this saves members time and money while also avoiding the complicated RFP process.
But the value doesn’t end there. Edge is expanding and refining its technology ecosystem model to define the full array of products and services that its members need to fulfill their mission. Edge will use that expanded model to collaborate with members to constantly prioritize procurement projects to ensure the most important solutions are available through the EdgeMarket cooperative when—or before—the members need them.
Just one of the exciting aspects of this structured collaboration with members will be the identification and facilitation of EdgeMarket member cohorts—small groups of members who share similar needs at the same time and who will be invited to participate in the EdgeMarket procurement projects that seek to fulfill those needs.
“We want to retain the knowledge and learning to continuously feed back into the cycle and always find ways to improve and learn,” Miller said. “Like Walter said, even if we did the same thing just a few years before, there’s always going to be something new. We want to harness the power of working through structure and supporting technologies to continuously drive effective procurements and to monitor the results of what these procurements deliver through their life cycles. We are a partner with our members throughout the process, whether the need is procurement, monitoring, or supporting over the life of the investment until we do it again.”
For information on becoming a member of EdgeMarket or gaining access to procurement solutions and resources, visit njedge.net/solutions/edgemarket.