Accurately measuring vendor performance and reaching out to vendors via video were two of the winning concepts selected for NIGP's 2008 Innovations and Best Practices Awards.

The state of Alaska's Division of General Services (DGS) won an NIGP Innovations Award, Customer Service, for its “Video Commercial for Vendor Training” entry.

The Georgia Institute of Technology's Department of Housing, meanwhile, won an NIGP Best Practice Award, Process Management, for its “Vendor Performance Reports” entry.

Alaska goes Hollywood

In the state of Alaska's award application for its “How to Do Business with the State” video, DGS Contracting Manager Walt Harvey, CPPO, noted, “This outreach and education effort stems from Gov. Sarah Palin's initiative to ensure rural vendors and businesses throughout Alaska are successful in doing business with the state.”

By at least one measure, DGS' 10-minute video is helping reach those goals.

“We have noticed a reduction in phone calls and queries on how to do business with the state and other common vendor questions — it's knocked down some of those,” Harvey told Go Pro.

The video is a useful training tool, Harvey added.

“In it, we cover the top 10 list of problems, and we think that will help reduce the number of protests and nonresponsive submittals when the vendors are better-schooled on how to do business with the state correctly,” he said.

That top 10 list includes useful pointers for vendors, such as, “It's important to attend pre-bid and pre-proposal conferences.” The video, which took about five days to produce, directs vendors (via an interactive display) to useful sections of the DGS Web site, such as the bidder application packet, which can be downloaded from the site, and the frequently asked questions and bidder and product preferences parts of the DGS site.

For other agencies thinking of producing a “How to Do Business” video, Harvey has this advice: “Keep it brief and to the point, and provide an overview, and watch our video.”

Harvey, who is a 25-year public purchasing veteran, noted that DGS' award-winning video was produced entirely in-house by DGS contracting officers and managers.

“The majority of the videotaping was accomplished in our conference room using a standard video camera, and it was edited by contracting staff using standard computer hardware and Apple Macintosh video editing software,” Harvey said. “The process was very basic and simple.”

Both Harvey and state of Alaska Chief Procurement Officer Vern Jones appear on camera in the “How to Do Business” video. Asked if any Hollywood talent scouts or producers have come calling as a result of the video, Harvey answered, “No, we are just going to wait for the royalties when it hits the DVD section at Blockbuster.”

To view the state of Alaska Division of General Services' video presentation, “How to Do Business with the State,” visit http://www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/ADMIN/dgs/purchasing/home.htm.

Georgia keeps vendors in the loop

For Georgia Tech's Department of Housing, its NIGP award winner, “Vendor Performance Reports,” is all about communication.

“The basic advantage of the quarterly reports program is that it maintains a line of communication between the contract administrator and the vendor,” said Bob Canada, CPPO, CPPB, procurement officer at the institute's Department of Housing. “Too many times, you get to the end of a contract, and you tell a contractor he wasn't really very good. Well, he'd like to hear that a little sooner in the process so he can have an opportunity to correct any deficiencies. So it just enhances the partnership between the vendor and our Housing office.”

And that line of communication extends beyond the contract administrator and the vendor, Canada added.

“From the purchasing agent's standpoint, it allows me to maintain — because I always get copies of the reports — an overview of how the contract is progressing,” Canada explained. “If there are issues with the contract itself, and they are brought up through the vendor performance reports, then I get a heads-up on them, and it helps keep us aware of a vendor's performance.”

Until the Vendor Performance Reports (VPR) program was started, there was no formal mechanism for the assessment of vendors performing under the large number of contracts that Housing managed. The Department of Housing operates a total of 44 buildings with 8,500 beds located in residential-style traditional rooms, suites and apartments, with an additional 394 apartments for married students.

Georgia Tech's Department of Housing has a staff of more than 250, including four procurement and contract coordinators, supervised by Bob Canada.

The VPR forms include five numeric ratings from 0 to 4, with 0 defined as unsatisfactory performance and 4 signifying excellent performance. A “Guidelines for Numeric Ratings” sheet that is part of the VPR offers definitions of the numeric ratings.

Those numeric ratings, added Canada, are quite precise.

“We actually give contract administrators and vendors some really strict guidelines on the ratings,” he said. “What you think a ‘3-Good Performance’ is and what I think a ‘3-Good Performance’ is doesn't matter. It's what the Guidelines for Numeric Ratings say a ‘3-Good Performance’ is. That way, we are comparing apples to apples.”

Canada, who's been in public procurement for 10 years, suggests that purchasing administrators develop a VPR form that meets their agency's needs.

“It's very simple: You could take what we have here and use it; it's not copyrighted by any means,” Canada said. “It's quite easy to convert this rating system to meet another agency's needs, for any kind of department or institution, because these are fairly broad categories.”

Since the start of the VPR program, more than 300 reports have been completed on more than 50 vendors. On many occasions, these reports have led to face-to-face meetings to discuss issues and resolve problems.

“The vendor community,” said the Georgia Tech awards application to NIGP, “has begun to recognize that the Department of Housing is serious about developing partnerships with its suppliers and contractors.”

Future plans call for the VPR program to go to an all-electronic format. Contract administrators then will be able to download the form off their PDAs through a shared server, according to Canada.