Many of my friends and colleagues are still “on the inside,” as in working for the Federal Government as civilian employees. I took the plunge 18 months ago; I retired and went to work in the private sector. This blog post is for my friends and colleagues who may be thinking about doing the same thing. I’ve got some points I’d like for you to consider that reach beyond the obvious.
1. You must stay informed. When working for the Federal Government, as long as you know the chain of command in your organization, the goals and objectives set by the organization, and the informal power structure therein, you really don’t have to pay too much attention to the larger world. If policies change the policy people will tell you – and even they have to be in touch with only their assigned area of responsibility. Sure, you are more effective if you continually survey the entire landscape, but you don’t necessarily have to do this.
In the private sector nobody tells you when to pay attention. Reading news articles, participating in LinkedIn discussion groups, monitoring trade journals is something you have to do now as part of your daily work habits. Suddenly it’s all about what you know that’s new in addition to who or what you know.
2. The bottom line is real and you must contribute. As a civil servant I worked hard to stay within budget for my projects. But truth be told, when unforeseen issues or needs arose, there was always money somewhere to bridge the gap. You do need skills such as anticipation, persuasiveness, and passion to get the available money before somebody else does, but somehow there’s always a way to keep moving forward.
In the private sector you have the money you have and that’s it. You also have the commitments you’ve made so you have to deliver while keeping costs below total funding. You have to pay the bills and have something left over or what’s the point of being in business? And every employee has a responsibility toward that bottom line either to keep costs down or find new business opportunities.
3. Freedom of speech is delightful. As a blogger in the private sector you get to share your opinion. When serving as a public official you have to say what the organization you serve wants you to say. Hopefully those two are in sync most of the time, making it an easy exercise. But not always.
In the private sector you are able to talk about the problems you see and offer suggestions for improving things that in the public sector may never leave your boss’ office. Over the last 18 months I’ve enjoyed digging into some of the things that have bothered me about how our Government works and then proceeded to “go public.” It’s like opening a window on a spring day. Oh, yeah, you have to watch out for the “pollen” (East-coasters, you know what I mean) so timing and how you say things counts!
So friends and colleagues still employed by the Feds, if you’re thinking about making the transition, I hope these thoughts will help you choose the best path. Others of you who have moved from a full Federal career to the private sector – what wisdom would you share?
National Patient Identifiers have been sparking a lot of discussion in the blogosphere in the last few months. Last month a Forbes article posited that a “128-Byte Data Field” identifying an individual could save lives and millions of dollars. On the same day, March 25, 2013 a petition was added to the “We the People” website requesting that the Obama Administration “Ask Congress to no longer prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from establishing standards for a unique patient identifier.” The Petition goes on to remind us that in 1996 the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) required Health and Human Services (HHS) to “adopt national standards for electronic healthcare transactions” and “a standard unique health identifier for each individual, employer, health plan, and health care provider for use in the healthcare system.” In 1998 Congress passed Public Law 105-277 that prohibited HHS spending any funds to “promulgate or adopt any final standard … providing for, or providing for the assignment of, a unique health identifier for an individual … until legislation is enacted specifically approving the standard.” It was not until 2006, that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) started assigning a National Provider Identifier.
EHRs to Save the Day?
It was once thought that moving to Electronic Health Records (EHRs) would solve a lot of health care problems. While it has helped, it has not proven to be the silver bullet. Dr. Farzad Mostashari, head of the HHS/ONC recently stated in congressional testimony, that: “As of February 2013, more than 230,000 providers – nearly 43 percent of the nation’s eligible professionals, and over 75 percent of eligible hospitals – have earned over $12.6 billion in total payments for meeting the requirements of the EHR Incentive Programs.” Although EHRs are being put in place they are being developed without clear standards and are not interoperable. Dr. Mostashari stated later in his testimony that the ONC was hesitant to dictate standards for interoperability. He wants to see the Healthcare Industry work past their differences.
As the healthcare industry is working out their interoperability problems, the Healthcare Information Management and System Society (HIMSS) – the healthcare industries not-for-profit organization that is “focused on providing global leadership for the optimal use of information technology” – has itself suggested that “8-14% of medical records include erroneous information tied to an incorrect patient identity.” It costs hospitals millions of dollars each year identifying and correcting these errors. Not to mention the potential cost to a patient!
Whether it is the 128-byte identifier suggested by the Forbes article or another idea that comes along, it looks like the issue of a National Patient Identifier has become a critical part of solving our healthcare information and security issues. I believe the discussion is just beginning.
Do you think we need a National Patient ID? Share your thoughts on the pros and cons of this controversial topic in the comments section below.
I spent the last 16 years of my US Government career commuting two hours a day on top of my requisite “40 hours.” Needless to say, when I got home at the end of the day only dire circumstances (What?! Out of milk again?) would spur me on to another 30 minutes away from hearth and home to run a brick-and-mortar errand. Now I work from home and find the gravitational pull of said hearth and home to be even more powerful. Why put on street clothes, fix my hair and makeup when I am just a Point. Click. Ship. away from my every desire? I think of it also as lessening my carbon footprint: no CO2 emissions from my vehicle, less laundry to process, and I definitely recycle all those cardboard boxes in which my shipments arrive.
I have found that, as a private consumer, there is very little I cannot acquire online and yet there are perceived barriers for Government eCommerce that have caused the pace of growth to level off on Government owned and operated, built for Government’s purpose eCommerce websites like DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage.
I’d like to take a moment to explore some of these perceived barriers and their solutions. I’ll present this as A thought about a possible barrier, followed by
I tend to think that time spent on the Internet is less productive.
- Like any office activity, the time spent completing it is a strict coefficient of Dawdle. Compare the time spent browsing the shelves in a hardware store to searching for a product online. Add to that the time it takes to travel to the brick and mortar location and back again and the Internet wins.
I want to use suppliers with whom I’m familiar.
- This is an understandable human tendency. But Government buyers have a fiduciary responsibility to do two things: ensure prices paid are fair and reasonable (FAR 12.2), and not favor any specific source of supplies (FAR Part 31).
I’m afraid that prices might be higher.
- In some cases they might be right now. But if the contracting folks could guarantee all the Government’s business to a strategically selected small group of trusted contractors, there would be no lower prices on Earth. What this means is you have to do your part.
What I want is not there.
- It’s probably easier during the course of a busy day to just look somewhere else. If DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage had a place where you could ask for certain items to be carried (see the point about strategic sourcing above) would you use it?
I don’t want to learn how to use another system.
- I don’t blame you, particularly when the Department of Defense sponsors multiple versions of the same functionality. It’s time to merge all of the eCommerce capability into one system for this reason and to create an environment where strategic sourcing works.
I never saw a memo from my policy makers about a mandate to use DOD EMALL, GSA Advantage or some other eCommerce platform.
- The Department of Defense has spent millions on developing eCommerce capabilities and then shies away from making it mandatory to use them. By not mandating their use, analysis of Business Intelligence that could further strengthen the Department’s position in negotiating prices is a lost opportunity. (See my related blog post, Has the Time for a Mandate Finally Arrived?)
I just use it for research and let my supply officer make the purchases.
- At the ground level it’s hard to focus on overall cost to perform a business function. Let’s pretend this is you running your business for a minute. Would you find it acceptable for one employee to spend 15 minutes doing part of a job and then handing it off to another employee who will spend another 15 minutes completing the job, when the whole thing could have been accomplished by one person in 20 minutes? Multiply that times 52 weeks in a year and hundreds of products to be ordered and the waste adds up.
I thought it was just for office and cleaning supplies; I didn’t know you could get weapon system parts.
- For every person who makes this statement, you can find one who thinks it’s for another specific commodity of some kind. And yet the information about the scope and depth of things available on both DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage is staring out at us from their home pages. Not only are there everyday business supplies and repair parts for vehicles, but there are services of various kinds. You can never know if you don’t look. And, as long as the current method for doing things goes unchanged, a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders, users won’t look unless they are made to.
Let’s begin a serious discussion about breaking down these barriers. DOD needs to focus on “how” instead of “why not.” Refocusing our buying habits to Government purpose built eCommerce tools can leverage buying power in unprecedented ways, providing the control needed to ensure a fair and reasonable business process with strategically formed partnerships that save real money.
We’ve reached into the Partnet archive to bring you today’s post. Originally posted in March 2013, B2B VS B2G: How eCommerce Can Save the Government Money, is brought to us by blogger Debra Fryar.
Business to Business (B2B) markets have positively influenced the business community for a number of years now. Their impact on the economy is evident in several ways:
Transaction costs. Three cost areas are significantly reduced through the conduct of B2B eCommerce.
- First is the reduction of search costs, as buyers need not go through multiple intermediaries to search for information about suppliers, products and prices as in a traditional supply chain. Internet is more efficient at gathering information, in terms of effort, time, and money spent. In B2B markets, buyers and sellers are gathered together into a single online trading community, reducing search costs even further.
- Second is the reduction in the costs of processing transactions (e.g. invoices, purchase orders and payment schemes), as B2B allows for the automation of transaction processes and therefore, the quick implementation of the same compared to other channels (such as the telephone and fax).
- Third, online processing improves inventory management and logistics.
Removing Intermediaries. Through B2B e-markets, suppliers are able to interact and transact directly with buyers, thereby eliminating intermediaries and distributors.
Transparency in pricing. Among the more evident benefits of e-markets is the increase in price transparency.
- The gathering of a large number of buyers and sellers in a single e-market reveals market price information and transaction processing to participants.
- Increased price transparency has the effect of pulling down price differentials in the market.
- Buyers are provided much more time to compare prices and make better buying decisions.
- B2B e-markets also allow multiple buyers and sellers to participate in two-way or reverse auctions. In such environments, prices can be set through automatic matching of bids and offers.
Economies of scale and network effects. The rapid growth of B2B e-markets creates traditional supply-side, cost-based economies of scale. Furthermore, the bringing together of a significant number of buyers and sellers provides the demand-side economies of scale or network effects. Each additional incremental participant in the e-market creates value for all participants in the demand side. More participants form a critical mass, which is key in attracting more users to an e-market.
Business-to-government eCommerce, or B2G, is defined as commerce between companies and the public sector. The United States Government is the largest buyer in the world. The federal government spends over $300 billion dollars annually on various goods and services. The federal government is also under extreme pressure to save money wherever it can.
Although the federal government has taken advantage of some of the lessons learned by B2B markets, moving many of it processes and transactions to the Internet, it has not taken full advantage of web-based procurement or eMarketplaces. There are a few systems in place, GSA Advantage and DOD EMALL being the largest. But government e-procurement systems remain undeveloped and underutilized. Web-based purchasing policies increase the transparency of the procurement process and reduce the risk of irregularities. The federal government would be wise to use online marketplaces to take advantage of their enormous buying power and reduce prices across the board. The American taxpayer would be most appreciative.
What do you think? If you are an American taxpayer or involved in B2G, do you agree? Sound off in the comments section below.
Last month my colleague Gabrielle Zimmerman wrote a two-part blog series on Communicating with the Government. I put it out for discussion on LinkedIn asking for people’s experience with communicating with government and learned a lot.
Here is a summary of the advice that I got.
- You need to target developing relationships with both the acquisition community and the potential users. The potential users may be harder to identify and get in to see. Both of these groups are extremely busy and your interactions should be short and to the point.
- Attend Agency Industry Days or Commanders Conferences to make initial contact. These are times when the government acquisition community is looking for discussion with industry. Be friendly, concise, and prepared. Follow-up contact should be by phone and not email.
- Select different messages for different players.
- Acquisition folks need contracting details: a one-page capabilities statement works well. Be sure to include your NAICs, DUN S, CAGE, Business size/type and any contracting vehicles you have.
- If you get in to see the users, make sure you have done your homework and that you already know what they do. Try to get them to explain their needs from their point of view so you can continue the discussion with how you can help them specifically. Be prepared to concisely explain what you have done in the past that has been similar to their needs, how you solved a problem, improved a process, or saved the customer money.
- If you are selling an established product, military customers want to know details (i.e., What is the product range? Is it rugged? How long to the batteries last?) Be prepared to provide an information sheet with detailed information on the product.
Many thanks to the members of the LinkedIn Business Development, Proposal Management & Writing, Marketing & Sales from CapturePlanning.com and GSA & VA Schedule Contracting Group for a rousing discussion on this subject. So what do you think? Any important points that I’ve missed?
The General Services Administration (GSA) has embarked on a quest to use a commercial best practice called Strategic Sourcing. According to the GSA website these are the benefits:
FSSI solutions provide easy access to its procurement vehicles, which offer business intelligence, best practice solutions, and greater discounts with volume increases. Additional benefits include that they:
• Fulfill OMB’s requirement for cross-government FSSI participation
• Assist with socioeconomic goals
• Collect and analyzes data
• Identify trends
• Re-engineer business processes
• Replicate cost-saving business processes
• Share lessons learned and best practices
• Realize cost efficiencies
• Streamline the procurement process
• Drive additional discounts
Let’s examine these benefits. (Concepts with a high degree of overlap are combined.)
- “Easy access to procurement vehicles.” This is not unique to FSSI. DOD EMALL, GSA Advantage!, amazon.com and many others provide easy access. Both DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage! have focused on highlighting small business offerings, environmentally friendly offerings, items on sale and a model that walks the novice through the procurement process without them even knowing it.
- “Business intelligence,” “collect and analyzes data,” and “identify trends.” FSSI does not offer this in and of itself. Consolidating data into a single collection point and application of BI tools is how good BI will happen. FPDS-NG, PCOLS and (again) DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage! provide data consolidation opportunities already, but BI does not happen without analysis. There is no guarantee that the Federal Government will do so here given other missed opportunities.
- “Best practice solutions” and “assist with socio-economic goals.” Strategic Sourcing has become a best practice in the private sector for good reason. A corporation has a duty unto itself to increase its profit margin. A corporation has no duty to support socio-economic programs, avoid favoritism, justify even minor decisions in writing, or follow rules outside of those dictated by commercial contract law. This is not true for the public sector. The financial impact of strategic sourcing on these other requirements has not been assessed. This country has worked so hard to create jobs. Doesn’t this seem antithetical?It may be true that if all you have to pick from are companies fitting the desired socio-economic targets your organization’s statistics will benefit. But the other half of this equation (and the real basis for such goals) is to create business opportunities for small and disadvantaged businesses who could be elbowed out by their larger, deep pocketed competitors. FSSI is blocking small and disadvantaged businesses from participation in the Federal market space, except for a few chosen vendors out of hundreds.
- “Fulfill OMB’s requirement for FSSI participation.” This is not a benefit, it’s a policy. Perhaps it is a benefit for GSA in the “atta-boy” department.
- “Re-engineer business processes,” “replicate cost-saving business practices,” “share lessons learned and best practices,” and “realize cost efficiencies” are all nuanced phrases meaning essentially the same thing. Continual Process Improvement is the responsibility of every Government organization and if FSSI will do these things then it has a place in the tool kit. But because you paid a lower price for a pencil or a bucket you have not necessarily saved the collective Government (and us taxpayers) any money if the Department of Labor is spending more on unemployment benefits.
- “Streamline the procurement process.” Now we’re getting somewhere. FSSI will do this because it downselects from hundreds of potential suppliers to just a few. Fewer contracts to manage should mean that contract actions happen faster and more accurately. It will cost the Government less to manage fewer contracts. Even the GSA Schedule program will benefit from this as schedule holders in the FSSI targeted areas will let the schedules lapse (or be forced out) due to poor sales performance, resulting in fewer contracts to manage. But if most of the suppliers leave the Schedule program what happens when it’s time to recompete FSSI? FSSI requires a vendor to be a schedule holder to participate. Will those forced out or choosing to leave be interested in spending their corporate time and funds to get a new schedule on the off chance they may win a scarce seat at the next FSSI banquet table?
- “Drive additional discounts.” This should be true. If the FSSI vendors are few in a vast market then volume should drive the prices down. Smaller and smaller margins should be possible when there are many, many sales. How low will they be able to go? In 2012 the average net profit margin in office supplies was 11.8%. Can the 15 successful vendors live with 9%? Or 5%? Time will tell. And then there’s the impact on jobs to consider.
So what is the alternative? Invest in improvements to DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage! that steer orders to small businesses and ensure the customer gets the exact item they need. Make the use of these two eCommerce platforms mandatory for procuring commercial items. Don’t manage these commercial items as National Stock Numbers (NSNs) since they are continually and immediately available from commercial inventories. Let everyone play in these two market spaces. Let market forces shape the competition. Set benchmarks for vendors so that when they achieve certain sales levels they will automatically drop their prices. Give every company that has a stake in office supplies, janitorial supplies and equipment and maintenance, repair and operations supplies and equipment an even playing field.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the idea of investing in these improvements to drive customer satisfaction? Share your ideas below.
In my last post, Let’s Get the B2G Conversation Started — Part 1, I talked about the need for contractors and Federal Government employees to focus on communications media to ensure we meet in the right places. And that even though communication implies multiple iterations of two parties exchanging the roles of Sender and Receiver and verification on each party’s part, that it can be often a one-way street.
An RFI, for instance, should be a platform for conversation, not an end in itself. The worst is when the Government fails to reply to RFI responses, effectively excising the opportunity to ensure both parties have a shared understanding of what’s been said. The same is true during contract performance when written requirements are furnished without opportunity to converse about them before delivery of product or results. The Government works really hard on the information and questions included in an RFI. The contractors work twice as hard on putting together their responses because they want the Government to seriously consider them for the work contemplated. When the contractor’s message is sent using only one channel which, after transmission, is shut down from the receiving end, never to be reopened until the RFP comes out, there is high probability that the Government is going to fail to learn something that would improve its desired outcome. The Government should at least publish a summary of the RFI results and, at best, enter into conversations about the contemplated work with any submitters who appear promising. When FAR talks about Market Research it is the policy writers’ hope that the Government will take the opportunity to learn more about how the industry delivers similar products or services in other arenas and what sort of terms and conditions in a contract will create a partnership that produces positive results. The point of an RFI is NOT to check a box.
It’s hard to imagine that there would be any reluctance to explore the possibilities for a project or product with others who have direct knowledge and expertise and yet, getting that conversation started seems to be the hardest part of doing business with the Government. We’ve had quite a bit of conversation on LinkedIn already on this topic, but if you have more to add or just haven’t done so already, please tell us your story.
Fall is in the air—that time of year where it’s nearly impossible to keep turkey and football far from the mind. This week it is even more apparent as most of America will be enjoying a holiday stuffed with family and friends, good food, and—of course—college football. But did you ever stop to think about how college-level referees get paid? Probably not. I happen to know that there is a really cool software package called GamePaySM that keeps referees in the black.
GamePaySM tracks everything required to pay officials and other independent contractors who work sporting events. Understandably, a lot of game officials work part time and are burdened with a large travel requirement. GamePaySM keeps tabs on when and where officials work, all in a secure, online environment. The software keeps accurate records and allows Conferences to calculate payments as well as pay taxes. Users can review payment history through a reporting function and can view the status of events and payments from anywhere.
Over 34 universities and athletic conferences use GamePaySM to manage their gaming officials including:
|American Athletic Conference
|Atlantic Coast Conference
|Big 12 Conference
|Big South Conference
|Big Ten Conference
||Sun Belt Conference
||U.S. Military Academy
||University of Pennsylvania
|Florida State University
||University of North Texas
||University of Richmond
Partnet is proud to have developed and supported the GamePaySM application since its inception in 2003.
GamePaySM: Celebrating 10 years of official payments in gaming.
I enjoyed reading Debra Fryar’s blog post, B2G Communication Mismatch. She is right to say that communication is not only about your message; it’s also about how you convey it. Communication 101: in order for communication to occur a sender, a message, a medium and a receiver must be present. Leave out even one link in the chain and the process fails. Contractors and federal government employees both must focus on communications media to ensure we meet in the right places.
So where are the right places? Debra mentions that, “68% of contractors said they would try to do more face to face visits and only 19% of government said they planned to.” Austere economic times, uncertain futures, shut downs and sequestration are creating a somewhat prickly environment, but I am wondering if this statistic has a very high variation from the norm. In my experience, government employees can have some odd notions about talking to contractors. I do not think there is anything new with the notion of government employees planning on fewer face-to-face communications.
But the nagging question remains: from where does this reluctance stem? Certainly during source selection sensitive periods the integrity of the acquisition process must be protected. Source selection officials must be very careful to avoid even the appearance of favoritism or technical leveling. Even being seen in public with a company representative that is competing for government business that is currently up for grabs can compromise the government employee.
But there are other times when talking to contractors is not only recommended, it’s smart. For example, in the acquisition planning stage and the post award stage. Having been both a government employee and a contractor I can assure you, we’re all just people with a variety of knowledge, skills, and experiences working together. Engaging in conversations about what you are trying to buy both when framing the acquisition (see FAR 10.002(b)(2) for recommended techniques to use in Market Research) and once the contract is awarded will yield a gold mine of useful information.
And I do mean conversation. Communication can be a one way street. Using the Sender > Message > Medium > Receiver model, communication occurs successfully when intake by the Receiver happens. One factor not mentioned in this model, however, is the quality of the communication. How well was the message understood? Unless communication flows both ways, there is not a good way to gauge the quality of the conversation. “Conversation” implies multiple iterations of two parties exchanging the roles of Sender and Receiver and verification on each party’s part that there is a meeting of the minds over what the exchanged messages mean.
It’s hard to imagine that there could be reluctance to explore the possibilities for a project or product with others who have direct knowledge and expertise and yet, getting that conversation started seems to be the hardest part of doing business with the government. I’ll dive into this topic further in Part 2, but in the mean time, tell us your B2G communication story.