How has procurement changed so dramatically and quickly? This question kicked off an engaging hour of conversation with six district CTOs during the SIIA and CoSN Feedback Forum in Philadelphia, PA. The answers to this question can be encapsulated in one word – change! Changes include institutional expectations, institutional knowledge, accountability to the CFO, lawyer, the board of education, and the state department of education. It used to be that a district would contact 2-3 vendors. Now the school district looks at a myriad of factors:
• What’s the value
Several other dynamics are at play in regards to procurement, including:
• The grant process has been more difficult than it has ever been.
• The amount of information needed to put together an RFP has increased – many people are involved in requirements gathering.
• Technology directors now are included in much more than the instructional pieces of procurement. They also look at facilities, security, etc. Technology directors do this without additional staffing.
The dramatic and quick changes to procurement started the conversation in Philly, but many additional issues were discussed in regards to the acquisition of products and services.
• School districts’ budgets are down from 10-60%. In one instance, the budget goes up every year because she is given more responsibility, for example, facilities.
• Technology directors want reference implementations the first time they meet you.
• Many school districts are collaborating on RFPs with neighboring districts. One state has a law that school districts have to work with one another to cut down on administrative funding. If the school districts don’t collaborate, they won’t get some state funding.
The school district technology directors provided some further insight into specific questions:
How can private enterprise help? What should they do? What do they need to do to change?
• Understand the procurement process for each district.
• Understand the funding systems and streams.
• Know your district – everything is transparent.
• The technology director wants to know your implementations to call for a reference.
• Money is hard to come by, and schools are less likely to take a chance unless they can verify.
Companies work hard on responses to RFPs. When you get proposals back to your RFP, what should we know that we didn’t know? What are you looking for?
• We look at the bottom line, but we also look at “adds” that benefit my district (training, extended PD, extra support for which we don’t have a budget). For example, schools can’t buy warranties, services levels, removal of old equipment, etc. and if this can be a free added service, that helps us in our purchasing decisions.
• Writing a response to an RFP is complicated. As technology directors, we respect and appreciate the time spent on responses.
- Technology directors can tell if there has been copying and pasting. Take a last time to glance at the submission before sending. Lay the RFP beside your response and map them. Technology directors appreciate the something extra for free, but if it doesn’t matter or applies to the RFP, then it sets off a red flag.
• Sometimes when vendors answer the RFP, let the technology director know that if they can bundle something together to get it for less money. Put an addendum together to let technology directors know that this part is possibly free, but if you do this, then it will incorporate another piece that provides more of a discount.
How do you work with start-ups that don’t have a lot of implementations?
• Districts aren’t afraid to work with start-ups. Develop relationships with the school districts and visit them at their location.
• Work with schools on pilots to get your feet on the ground. Schools will give you feedback on your product, and it may result in something more substantial.
How many RFPs have you released over the years where you focus was on a specific vendor?
• It depends on what the product or service is.
- Interoperability is absolutely at the top of the list.
- Collectively, school districts do not do this often.
Additionally, procurement still revolves around relationships. Be clear and concise – private enterprise and technology directors are building a trust relationship to solve some of the education challenges. One final piece of advice given during the time together includes talking to districts about ways to make efficiencies to shift money for new technologies – discuss ROI as Return on Instruction.
What are the SIIA and CoSN Feedback Forums?
Through a long-standing partnership between SIIA and CoSN, feedback forums provide an opportunity for developers of educational software applications, digital content, and online learning to hear from leading educators discussing issues important to them on the ground level. This feedback forum held on April 1, 2019, during the CoSN Annual Conference addressed critical questions about emerging technologies and their instructional value, the hurdles they’re encountering, the accelerators they’re expecting and the ways in which technology (and strategic technology leadership) can turn innovative vision into successful transformation for students, educators and communities alike. Look for the next one coming in June during ISTE.
Jill Abbott is the Sr. Vice President and Managing Director of the Education Technology Industry Network of SIIA.