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Insiders Offer Insights for Vendors Seeking State Contracts

Procurement leaders advise that before seeking to do business with state government, read the fine print of solicitations, understand the different types of contract vehicles, and take every opportunity to ask questions.

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This story is limited to Industry Insider — California members.
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Selling IT goods and services to state government is a straightforward process — as long as vendors follow the rules and read the specs.

That was the key takeaway from a “Tech Talk” webinar last week, presented by key figures from the California Department of Technology (CDT) and the Department of General Services (DGS).

Presenters were the state’s deputy chief information officer and CDT’s chief deputy director, Russ Nichols, who served as moderator; Angela Shell, DGS’ chief procurement officer and deputy director of the Procurement Division; and Tiffany Angulo, CDT’s deputy director over statewide procurement.
A screenshot of the Tech Talk opening slide that features images of Russ Nichols, Tiffany Angulo, and Angela Shell, with their job titles and departments listed underneath their images.
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“Our goal today is to take very, very complex processes and rules and statutes that guide procurement and break it down and make it a little easier to understand,” Nichols told attendees at Thursday’s webinar.

A key topic the three addressed was how a business that seeks to sell to the state should begin marketing its IT goods or services to government.

“One of the best ways to market what your software is or your goods or your services is … to reach out to those individual departments,” Shell said. “Find out what are departments buying. We have a lot of tools online today where departments are putting their look-ahead reports up on their websites. Those are linked to the DGS website as well.”

The two departments’ areas of responsibility sometimes overlap, Angulo and Shell acknowledged. That’s becoming more common as more items that were once not considered IT now incorporate technology that makes them IT.

“That’s another thing that changes dramatically over time,” Nichols said. “What’s IT and non-IT? A refrigerator used to be absolutely non-IT: Plug it in the wall, and it gets cold. Now a lot of refrigerators — especially in an environment like a clinical setting, where refrigeration is required for medication, for example — those are IT devices that have login and security parameters and a whole bunch of other IT built into it. … It’s a networked device, so those lines constantly move. These folks (Shell and Angulo) have a huge challenge in their organizations, as they’re doing procurements, to figure out, ‘Is this, today, an IT device? Will it be tomorrow? How do we manage that to make sure we’re protecting not only the state but everything?’”

Angulo added: “Non-IT does become IT eventually, so that’s another sticking point that we’re experiencing, and Angela and I are working together. We really are trying to provide guidance around how you move your legacy system into more modernized IT purchasing methods.”

Another example of how tech has spurred the migration of responsibilities from one department to the other is telecommunications.

“If you go back a couple of years, telecom was specifically under DGS, and it’s in the process of migrating to CDT,” Nichols said. “That might sound like an easy thing to do … however, when you think about the number of telecom contracts that are in place across the state, and they don’t all have the same end date, that actually becomes a very prolonged process of moving things across (departments), managing contracts that are in flight, issuing new contracts … . The important thing here is to acknowledge that, yes, there has been some overlap — and, as we move forward with telecom, more and more will move to CDT; that’s a very planned process — it’s not ‘Just flip the switch.’”

Shell said vendors seeking a seat at the table should read solicitations carefully, including deadlines and terms and conditions, and to ask questions.

“Cal eProcure is also a place where you want to look to see what are the advertisements?” Shell said. “What are the historical advertisements? You go in and ask to meet with the department. You ask to meet with their small business or DVBE (disabled veteran business enterprise) advocate. … Put together a company statement. You need to have those documents to give that program or that advocate a way to remember you. What do you sell? How long have you been in business? Who have your clients been? Have you worked with government in or out of California? … Also, let departments know that you’re on the LPA (Leveraged Procurement Agreement): ‘This is what I’m able to sell.’”

Angulo also advised vendors: “Pro tip: Show me the money. Look up Budget Change Proposals to see what’s been funded.”

Nichols’ parting bit of advice for vendors was to seek clarity in solicitations by asking questions of the department. The question phase is generally included in a request for proposal or request for information, and vendors should avail themselves of that opportunity.

“Be sure what’s being asked for,” he said. “Engage in that process. It’s much better to delay it than to have to reissue a clarification of something to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing.”
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.