It’s proven difficult to merge the dynamic world of technology with the slow-moving processes of procurement in public transit and across government agencies. States and localities are often understaffed in the procurement department, and navigating cumbersome rules and requirements does not lend itself to innovation. These obstacles cause agencies to miss out on working with flexible and fast-moving technology companies and startups such as Lyft, Uber, and Via that can ultimately improve the public transit experience for end users. Public-sector procurement is seeing gradual change, but how do we move faster? How can we disrupt the procurement process to make way for market and technology innovations that are changing the world of transportation around us?
BETTER SOFTWARE, MORE PARTNERSHIPS
At the state level, Virginia is at the forefront of procurement reform and improvement. In a 2016 study of state procurement offices, the Governing Institute ranked Virginia first in both procuring information technology and using technology in its procurement practices. At the center of Virginia’s procurement activities is a web-based vendor registration and purchasing system known as eVA that helps organize and speed up the buying process. eVA has been recognized for improving operational efficiencies for suppliers and buyers, and reducing the costs of acquiring goods and services. The state also released two enterprise eProcurement mobile apps, eVA Mobile 4 Business and eVA Mobile 4 Approvers, which provide the vendors and the public with real-time access to bidding processes.
Additionally, Virginia is a leading state in the advancement of public-private partnerships (P3s). The state passed legislation in 2015 that created a new government department specifically to promote P3s. When it comes to procuring the latest transportation technology such as mobile payment systems, these partnerships are vital. Larry Yermack at Cubic Transportation Systems pointed out in a recent article that public-private partnerships across the country still need improvement. He advocates for the need to create a new relationship between the government and technology partners that allows technology companies to “do what they do best” – efficiently develop flexible technology solutions. Although the process is far from perfect, promoting P3s at a state level is a solid start, and public transit is reaping some of the benefits. In 2015, the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) partnered with moovel Transit (previously known as GlobeSherpa) to introduce VRE Mobile, the first mobile ticketing app for a transit system in the greater Washington D.C. area.
FRESH TALENT AND IDEAS
As the procurement industry grapples with a depleting workforce, the next generation of professionals will be integral in moving the industry forward. According to a 2015 Government Procurement survey, nearly one-fifth of public purchasing officials said they would be retired in the next two to three years. Bringing in fresh talent from other fields, especially the technology industry, can help revitalize the procurement process in our public agencies. The U.S. Digital Service (USDS), for instance, is a government technology startup that is establishing principles specific to buying digital services in the public sector. Armed with expert technologists, the USDS’ goal for procurement is to empower and educate government buyers and change processes by using private sector comparison scenarios.
Individual agencies are also making changes, as a new wave of public workers bring in the technical knowledge and flexibility that the transportation procurement process needs. Last year, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) created a Chief Technology Officer position and brought in David Block-Schachter, a former chief scientist at the transportation startup Bridj, to modernize MBTA’s processes and services. Elsewhere, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority put Jameson Auten at the head of their Regional Service Delivery and Innovation Division to implement innovative delivery models and partnerships for Kansas City public transit. Up and coming tech-savvy professionals have been trained to think of new ways to approach problems by utilizing digital tools innovatively. Most people entering the workforce today have grown up with mobile, smart, and data-driven solutions, as well, making them accustomed to continuously evolving technology.
If you’re interested in getting into the field of public transit procurement, or would simply like to arm yourself with knowledge, here are some resources to start with:
– TransitTalent.com is a career hub for open positions in public transportation. There are options to filter by sector, and you can choose “Procurement” as your job category. Try setting up an RSS feed to receive instant listing updates.
– APICS is a professional association that offers educational programs and certifications in supply chain fields, including procurement. There are special benefits for student members including an online mentorship center, scholarship opportunities, and academic programs. The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) is another option for earning a professional procurement certification if you’re just starting out your career.
– The U.S. Digital Service Playbook is an online resource with 13 key “plays” drawn from successful practices in the private sector and government that can help government agencies build effective digital services.
– The TechFAR Hub is a public website that gives government acquisition experts the language, support and tools they need to flexibly navigate regulations and write better contracts. It also provides a how-to guide for private companies looking to do business with agencies.
Already working in public transportation? Transit agencies that are interested in hiring tech-savvy employees should consider using these sources of talent:
– AngelList is a career site for job-seekers looking to work at startups, making it hub of techie talent. Last February, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority posted openings for 10 software engineers to bring a new team of technologists into the agency.
– GitHub Jobs is the job board on GitHub.com, a gathering place for developers to create and collaborate on software projects.
– Stack Overflow Jobs is the job board on StackOverflow.com, an online community where programmers ask questions and share technical knowledge.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward