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Oregon readies e-procurement platform

Oregon is preparing to replace its largely manual procurement system with a web-based enterprise platform in the middle of next year.

Although the state has unified procurement rules, it has lacked a modern IT system to standardize and track procurements, said Elizabeth Craig, communications director at the Oregon Department of Administrative Services. Procurement processes vary by agency and rely on manual labor, limiting the state’s ability to track and manage spend, she explained. The state spends about $8 billion each biennium on goods and services. That’s 10% of the state budget and almost as much as Oregon spends on K-12 education system.

“We haven’t been able to see if there are areas where maybe we could be saving money. We haven’t had any robust analytics or data reporting abilities,” Craig said.

The new system, OregonBuys, is an enterprise platform that tracks and manages agency purchases, standardizes procurement across all departments, automates all manual processes and collects enterprisewide data to help leaders make informed decisions.

“Having this new system will help us better understand what we’re buying, and we’ll be able to use the information to identify areas where we can save money by negotiating better contract terms," Craig said.

The system includes the OregonBuys Marketplace, where purchasers can shop in a consumer-like environment and compare pricing, said Brian Utley, president and CEO of Periscope Holdings, which makes BuySpeed, the system on which OregonBuys is based.

“We’re built for government and that’s all we do, we’re not a system that’s trying to deliver to manufacturing or to retail or the financial industry,” Utley said. “We’re really delivering to government, which is a different type of procurement process because you have to have a contractual license from somebody in order to buy from them.”

Access to OregonBuys is role-based. For instance, contract administrators will be able to see requests for proposals, evaluations of those RFPs, contracts and their deliverables, whereas a payables employee would be able to manage payments, Utley said. On the vendor side, businesses register, view requests for proposals and see contracts, purchase orders and payments.

Suppliers using the state’s current system, the Oregon Procurement Information Network, can log in to the network and subscribe to areas of interest to see what’s available to bid on, but actual bids must be submitted manually. “There’s no electronic uploading of documents, and it’s a really cumbersome process for both the supplier and the agency,” Craig said.

When OregonBuys is fully automated by the end of 2021, everything will be digitized: payments, workflows, approvals, solicitations, bid submissions, invoicing and reporting, for example.

Another way the system benefits vendors and agencies alike is in its integration with R*STARS, the state’s accounting system, and the Certification Office For Business Inclusion and Diversity Certification system, whose goal is to give businesses a fair opportunity to compete for government contracts regardless of company size or owner ethnicity, gender or disability. OregonBuys pulls certification information nightly and matches it to the vendors that register in the new system, which then displays the certifications so that buyers know whether vendors are certified.

OregonBuys is part of the state’s larger push to modernize IT, Craig said, adding that the state recently replaced a 30-year-old human resources system. The impetus comes from Gov. Kate Brown, who expects all 85 executive branch agencies to adopt OregonBuys, Craig said.

Periscope has worked with Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Nevada on e-procurement systems, which are growing in popularity, Utley said.

“For a long time, everybody bought the big ERP, the enterprise systems" he said. “You’ve got to have a financial system, you’ve got to have an HR system -- but what those systems don’t deliver is a true [procure-to-pay] solution for government. So business has gone out and found these best-of-breed solutions to plug into their ERP to enhance the ERP and make it better.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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