(Photo by Juliana Reyes)
Todd Baylson keeps apologizing.
“I’m sorry it’s so confusing,” he said when we met late last month. “I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it is very dense,” he wrote in an email.
He’s talking about the city’s procurement process — how the city contracts with outside vendors to purchase goods or services.
Baylson is the city’s new technology procurement advocate and it’s his job to make this stuff simpler and more transparent. First step? Admitting that it’s neither simple nor all that transparent. Like how the city has five different websites it uses to post contract opportunities. Or how there are two different departments that run city procurement, each with a different set of rules that govern their processes.
It’s also Baylson’s job to get more small- and mid-sized local businesses applying for and nabbing city contracts. The city wants to work with those types of businesses because that’s where the innovation is happening, rather than big corporations that the city traditionally works with, Baylson said. (The downside, of course, startups also represents more risk.) It also wants to promote the local economy. If the Health Department is getting a website redesign, wouldn’t one of the city’s many web dev firms be up to the job? (Remember when no Philly firms applied to build the 311 mobile app?)
Baylson is hosting an event about procurement reform during Philly Tech Week, April 20 at 8:30 a.m.
Baylson’s hire is yet another in a string of procurement-related Nutter administration projects, like the creation of a small ($32,000 and under) contracts site called Big Ideas PHL, the launch of an ambitious Bloomberg Philanthropies-backed accelerator FastFWD (along with the goal of turning that experience into tangible lessons) and the release of data around city contracts.
Baylson, who spent some time as policy director for former Councilman Bill Green, actually used to work for Textizen, one of the startups in FastFWD’s first class that is contracting with the city right now. He’s been on both sides and it seems to help him in the telling-it-like-it-is department.
Take this stat, which he pointed out during our meeting: When buying services and supplies, the city is legally bound to take the lowest bid. But from Q2 of FY 2012 to Q1 of FY 2013, 29 percent of the 196 services and supplies contracts the city awarded — totaling $90.6 million — only had one applicant. (The city does not have data like this — at least in a “publicly available way” — for professional services, which include things like legal services, software development and subscriptions to online databases, Baylson said.)
That’s just one example of the kinds of issues that bog down city procurement, and fixing that is a broader goal to work toward. Meanwhile, Baylson is starting small, especially since “legislative changes can long and arduous,” he said.
Here’s some of what he has planned:
- Running SEO and analytics on the city’s contract sites so that the city can collect data on things like how vendors are getting to each of its sites and how long they’re spending on it.
- Launching email notifications for when new contract opportunities go up (notifications currently exist on one site, Big Ideas PHL, and Baylson is also running a Twitter account for city contract alerts @PHLGovContracts),
- Collecting information from previous vendors on their experience contracting with the city.
- Offering office hours for companies interested in contracting with the city.
He’s also assembled a cross-department working group that will be discussing these issues.
So, what can you do to start getting city contracts? Sign up for notifications on Big Ideas PHL, scan the city’s contract sites for opportunities and email Baylson at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any thoughts or questions.
Baylson has an ambitious charge and Mayor Nutter will be out of office by the end of the year. The future of his position, housed in the Nutter-created “innovation team,” is unclear. Still, Baylson said the time to act on procurement issues is now. There’s momentum, there’s interest. It’s important to get things going right now.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said.-30-
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