Gotham Gazette Thu, 04 Mar 2021 21:50:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity comptroller dinapoli event

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

New York City government spends roughly $20 billion per year on goods and services through contracts with non-governmental vendors, including thousands of opportunities for companies of all types and sizes to work with the city. But the contracting process has long been arduous for vendors to navigate and difficult for watchdogs to closely monitor. Officials say that is now changing as a multi-step effort has unfolded over the past few years to modernize the technical infrastructure and databases that support city contracting.

And on Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) in partnership with City Council Member Ben Kallos announced the launch of updated in-person and online terminals where key information about city contracts and vendors is now accessible. The announcement is part of an ongoing effort that began in 2016 to implement a new electronic system -- the Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal, or PASSPort -- that will serve as a one-stop-shop for agencies, vendors, oversight entities, and the public involved or interested in government procurement.

The latest update corrects some of the growing pains that emerged while moving to the more modern, “end-to-end” platform intended to expand accessibility and transparency to city contracting and streamline the process for vendors and agency staff.

“Whether it’s vendors who are competing with one another, reporters, or just members of the public who want to know where their tax dollars are going, it’s important that folks can find it,” Kallos said about the newly accessible databases.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony at MOCS headquarters in Lower Manhattan, Kallos, an Upper East Side Democrat who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, and MOCS Director and Chief Contracting Officer Dan Symon reported that a rebooted “public inspection terminal” had both now been synchronized with the new wrap-around system, PASSPort. Accompanying the new in-person terminal, which they hope current and potential contractors will use, is a new online portal, which is also now using most of the same data sets. Those data sets now include information on vendors, their principals, and affiliated entities.

“PASSPort will be a complete, end-to-end online procurement platform that the city and vendors and other stakeholders and oversights will use together to do their work. That never existed before. This is one output of that huge effort,” Symon said, referring to the PASSPort overhaul.

MOCS is the city agency responsible for facilitating and providing one degree of oversight of the city’s procurement of goods and services. It coordinates among city agencies, potential vendors, and other oversight bodies, like the city comptroller’s office, to make the process efficient and compliant with procurement rules.

As part of the transition to PASSPort, MOCS had previously digitized the vendor disclosure process, making it possible for vendors to update their information online and significantly cutting the time it takes to update the database. It is the type of digital efficiency that is seen as essential for many firms doing business with the city, especially smaller ones and those operating at slimmer margins that may not be able to hire sufficient compliance staff.

The second phase allowed city agencies to shop and purchase contracts online. When fully implemented vendors will be able to submit bids and proposals online, agencies will be able to evaluate vendors and make awards, and vendors will be able to track the entire process. Phase three is planned to begin this spring and Symon expects the entire system to be in place by this time next year. The project has been criticized for cost overruns: what had been a $30.5 million contract with French firm Ivalua in 2016, ballooned to roughly $47 million in 2018. Symon has said the additional spending came after MOCS decided to expand the scope of the project due to demand and early successes.

The “public inspection terminal” is a computer database used for in-person access to MOCS contract and vendor information, which is available for any member of the public to use without special authorization. It is located on the 9th Floor of 253 Broadway (a photo ID may be required to enter the building, which houses a number of city government offices). Upon arrival, members of the public must sign-in and be logged into the database by MOCS staff. Information found on the portal can be emailed or printed onsite free of charge.

The in-person terminal has been in use since the late 1980s, and for most of the last 30 years has operated a system called VENDEX, which offered computerized data-tracking but lacked the integrated features of a one-stop shop for government procurement. When Kallos became chair of the Council contracts committee last year, he said his office found that in a number of areas the terminal was using legacy data from VENDEX rather than the more complete and up-to-date information contained in PASSPort. The same was true for the online portal, which was established under a 2017 law sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander and launched as part of the second phase of the PASSPort rollout, which formally began in April 2019.

“Almost everything now is going to be in PASSPort,” Kallos said. “So we found a little bit of a conflict. What previously might have happened is that you would have read it in the newspaper but we have a really great working we’ve been working with [MOCS] trying to get this done.”

Now available through PASSPort are a broad range of reporting from basic identifying information about vendors and their principals to performance evaluations on vendors that do business with the city. Of particular interest to reporters and ethics watchdogs, according to Kallos, is the Current Related Entities Report, which shows entities that control or are affiliated with a vendor, an important tool for tracking potential conflicts of interest.

Moving the system online has “made doing business with the city a lot easier,” said Jennifer Geiling, MOCS’ press secretary.

Previously, a vendor would have to fill out a paper questionnaire and deliver it to the MOCS offices where a staff member would have to key their information into the database. “Here we made the terminal for vendors to interact with completely online, they are submitting their disclosures online in their own locations, so it’s an online platform,” Symon explained.

“It used to take somewhere around 30 days median time for an average size organization to go through the VENDEX process, but today it takes less than a day, because it’s now gone online, it’s digital, it’s available at all times for vendors to update,” noted Geiling.

Kallos and Symon believe moving to a more modern system will have a big impact on vendors competing for city contracts, especially smaller businesses that may have fewer resources to facilitate navigating the procurement process.

“The people who do business are keenly aware because they have something at stake. We have 18,000 vendors who are going to be taking advantage of this. Those 18,000 vendors have tens if not hundreds of thousands, or millions of employees, altogether. So I think they will be paying attention,” said Kallos.

“One of the goals that we have with PASSPort generally is greater transparency, which allows greater accessibility,” Geiling added.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity Fri, 07 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
When Inexperience Wins, New York City Loses paylock

(photo via PayLock)

The only thing worse than getting a parking ticket is having your car towed for unpaid fines. For decades, it was the ultimate New York hassle: spend hours looking for your car only to find out you’ve been ticketed, towed, charged a storage fee, and forced to rescue your vehicle from a distant decrepit parking lot.

Driving has its place in New York City, which is why there are two million registered cars in the city. With those cars comes tens of millions of dollars in unpaid tickets and fines. That’s why the city embarked on a pilot program in 2012 designed to address motorist inconvenience while increasing the ease and efficiency of collecting overdue fines that help the city pay for schools, parks, and other priorities New Yorkers care about. The idea was to introduce a simple technology designed to end this municipal headache.

Seven years ago, PayLock, where I serve as CEO, presented the city with an innovative solution to the draconian policy of impounding a person’s vehicle for unpaid infractions. Rather than towing, PayLock places a patented immobilizing self-release car boot on a vehicle when they have fines over $350. Once in place, the boot can only be removed after the driver pays their fines.

Through a mobile-friendly website or call center, the driver receives a code to unlock their boot and has 48 hours to return it. As a result, the city gets its money, and motorists get their car back hassle-free within minutes. In fact, PayLock’s focus on making a tough situation better recouped over $50 million in unpaid tickets for the city in 2018 alone.

Sadly, New York City will transition to a new program on Friday, November 1, and New Yorkers should ask why.

Last Spring, the city announced a public request for proposals (RFP) to select a company that would run the program for the next five years. The city called for companies with at least three years of experience to apply. We were happy to put our expertise and technology up against any other company. Our seven year track record in New York would speak for itself. We are the only company in the United States successfully operating in over 20 municipalities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, and Baltimore.

To our amazement, the bid was awarded to a newly formed company called RIS NYC, which was incorporated three months after submitting its proposal to the city and brought together one of the city’s tow truck and parking lot operators.

RIS NYC has never implemented a self-release booting program for any major city. It also appears that the city went so far as to extend the proposal deadline to respond to the RFP several times just to give RIS NYC time to apply. Then it was awarded the contract even though it lacked the one thing the RFP said was most important: experience.

How is it possible that an untested company was selected to run the largest self-release booting program in the country?

This is why PayLock formally submitted protest letters and later filed an Article 78 legal petition to fight an unfair and nontransparent process. We submitted a proposal backed by data and experience. We brought to the table a total of 14 years of experience collaborating with local governments to run self-release booting programs across the country.

In good faith, we continued to improve and add services at no additional cost to New York taxpayers over the course of the past seven years. We have a great working relationship with the city and the many outstanding Department of Finance employees that we work alongside everyday to help make this program a success. These city employees and our own New York City-based team have shown great care for what is best for New Yorkers.

Instead of providing answers, the city has unfortunately moved the goal posts and built an opaque procurement process that leaves New Yorkers scratching their heads. We pioneered this program and remain a committed partner to the city with a proven record of solving a citywide problem, generating revenue, and reducing administrative costs.

The people of New York deserve better. Companies like PayLock, which deliver innovative solutions to large- and small-scale problems, deserve better. New York City and the Department of Finance have a lot of work to do to ensure companies competing for work in the greatest city in the world have the greatest procurement process in the world.

Justin Kennedy is the Chief Executive Officer of PayLock.

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When Inexperience Wins, New York City Loses Thu, 31 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
We’re Transforming Public Sector Contracting mbdb maven cli

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

As the City of New York continues to work towards building the most efficient, most transparent, highest functioning government possible, the historically opaque and wasteful government contract procurement process is often overlooked, and for too long has been deemed too complicated to untangle.

But new technology has the capacity to make government procurement simpler, faster, and cheaper -- and it is happening in New York.

Of the city’s $92+ billion annual budget, over 20% -- approximately $19.3 billion -- is spent buying the necessary goods and services used to provide vital services to New Yorkers, maintain and improve the city’s infrastructure, and facilitate the government’s day-to-day operations via nearly 40,000 financial transactions. For any large organization, from governments to Fortune 500 companies, managing that kind of scale is a challenge, requiring dedicated people and state-of-the-art software that is up to the task of making procurement as efficient as possible.

At Ivalua we have spent the last two decades building our spend management software to maximize value for both private and public sector organizations along every step of the procurement process, and we’re in the midst of doing it for the City of New York.

Spend management technology enables procurement and supply chain leaders to more effectively manage how their money is being spent by:

-Identifying opportunities to reduce costs and drive efficiencies;

-Improving transparency in bidding to ensure competitive pricing;

-Speeding up the contracting process;

-Streamlining the purchasing process for procurement officers and suppliers to ensure invoices match contracts.

Leading private sector companies have long leveraged such technology to optimize their procurement processes, maximizing value, improving efficiency, mitigating risk, and ensuring transparency for shareholders. Unfortunately, the ability of governments to drive similar results has been greatly limited until now.

Despite their best intentions, strict regulations and complex, ever-evolving legislation have bound the hands of those charged with procuring the goods and services needed to run a government. For decades, city agency procurement teams have had to rely on paper-based processes or homegrown, subpar solutions, without the best-of-breed capabilities that drive real value in the private sector. This frustrates everyone, from taxpayers who just want a park built, to the companies selling the playground equipment.

For years, Ivalua has been helping the most proactive public sector leaders close this gap at all levels of government, including states such as Maryland, Arizona, and Ohio, Shared Services Canada, Paris’ airports, and now right here in the great City of New York. With a major office right here in Manhattan (one of 15 around the globe), we live here and rely on the same vital services.

For New York, we’re now implementing a complete suite to maximize the efficiency and transparency of city government.

The city planned its transformation over three phases spanning several years due to the massive complexity involved. The first phase focused on vendor management and deployed in 2017. A vendor registration process that used to require 12 pounds of paper per vendor and take most vendors 30 days has been fully digitized and cut to just a day.

Information that was previously siloed at dozens of agencies is now shared, improving transparency and efficiency, with input already provided by over 12,000 contractors, 24,000 members of their staffs, and 7,000 city agency staff. Contracts can now be registered more quickly with more timely, automated submission to the city Comptroller.

The second phase deployed more recently and focused on streamlining the purchasing process itself. The third phase will address the bid solicitation and invoicing processes to take taxpayer dollars further while improving payment timeliness and accuracy. It is in design mode, on schedule to be delivered in 2020.

All told, New York City has already significantly improved efficiency, transparency, and the ability to deliver better services more rapidly. While much work remains, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services has taken an incredible step forward that will prove to be a model for cities across the country, and we are proud to be leading the way with them. 

Dan Amzallag is CEO of Ivalua, Inc. On Twitter @ivalua.

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We’re Transforming Public Sector Contracting Mon, 19 Aug 2019 01:42:57 +0000