Transforming state procurement, one relationship at a time
By Christa Helfrey
State government has historically had a fortress-like reputation, where only giant companies could afford to dedicate time and resources to do business with the state. Smaller companies expressed frustration at the seemingly tedious side quests and alliances associated with bidding on state projects with no guarantee their efforts would lead to worthwhile rewards. However, the State of Oklahoma has found a unique way to lower the drawbridge, expand relationships with companies of all sizes and realize efficiency through competitive purchasing processes that maximize taxpayer dollars.
Established in 2021, the annual State Suppliers Expo has become an essential event for anyone looking to grow their business and help make a positive impact in Oklahoma. Maybe you're a small business owner unsure of how your services can meet state government's needs. Maybe you're a long-time state supplier looking to partner with agencies you haven't yet built a connection with. The Expo is the perfect place to find answers and opportunities from real people, without having to spend hours online researching procurement requirements or jumping between emails and phone calls trying to find the right contact.
The 2022 State Suppliers Expo, held on Oct. 11, hosted 355 companies at the Oklahoma City Convention Center for a day of hands-on learning, networking and discussing ways to reach mutually beneficial goals. As a result, a record 120 businesses signed up as new state bidders in one day, nearly double the amount from 2021.
What makes the State Suppliers Expo unique?
The Expo is a massive collaboration that brings together executive state leadership, agencies, procurement experts and business representatives under one roof. Unlike traditional expos and tradeshows, where companies showcase goods and service at their booths, the State of Oklahoma hosts the State Suppliers Expo to walk companies through its procurement process and highlight top projects available for supplier bids. Each of the 15 booths represents a different cabinet area of state government, from agriculture to digital transformation.
The Expo’s mission is to cultivate public-private partnerships that will strengthen our economy and, ultimately, lead to better state services for citizens. This is accomplished by getting everyone in one location to talk openly about the state’s needs and how businesses can help realize the vision for a better Oklahoma with more competitive supplier options.
"The 2022 State Suppliers Expo was by far the best event I have ever attended," said Robert Wager, senior SLED sales consultant for Granite Telecommunications. "The reverse tradeshow setup allows suppliers to have meaningful conversations with state agencies to identify initiatives, needs and procurement processes, which gives businesses a clear path to earn partnerships."
Removing barriers to state procurement:
In the past, central purchasing laws required suppliers to pay a $25 fee for each service or product category, classified by United Nations Standard Products and Services Codes (UNSPSCs), in which they registered. For example, if a company sold both printing services and paper products, which fall under two separate UNSPSCs, they would pay $50 to register to bid on state projects within both categories. However, registering and bidding only guarantees a company will be in the running for a contract, not that the state will choose that company if there is a better value available. This could deter a smaller company from investing the time and money of trying to conduct business with the state only to not be awarded a contract. Often, the state’s supplier options were limited to primarily large companies that could dedicate the resources to the process.
Today, suppliers may register with any number of UNSPSCs that apply to their business offerings and bid on projects at no cost until a contract is formally awarded to them. This incentivizes more companies to bid and gives the state more options to get the best value for Oklahoma. At the State Suppliers Expo, attending businesses signed up as a state bidder and initiated supplier registration on the spot with assistance from the state purchasing team, making it easier than ever to bid on current projects.
In addition to state procurement staff, there were many opportunities to develop relationships with leaders and representatives from across state government. Visitors met the Oklahoma governor, the state chief operating officer, executive cabinet secretaries and employees from the state agencies within each cabinet area all in one room. This accessibility fostered open communication between the public and private sectors and made it easier to find the right people that could help companies get the most out the Expo.
"This is a one stop shop. You can learn about upcoming agency initiatives, meet the people responsible and if you are not already signed up, you can get the process going to become a state vendor," said Larry Huck, enterprise account director for Adobe. "The Oklahoma State Supplier Expo provided me with some additional visibility into agency goals that will ultimately help drive additional value into the relationship for both Adobe and the State of Oklahoma."
Learning and transparency are essential elements of the State Suppliers Expo, whether it’s how to bid on projects, how to navigate the new online Oklahoma Supplier Portal or what state resources are available to businesses, visitors left equipped with the knowledge they needed to be successful state partners.
Breakout rooms were a new addition to the 2022 Expo, offering guided procurement tutorials and presentations on commerce, transportation and technology separately from the main ballroom. Each presentation dove deeper into content found at booths and allowed attendees to pose questions to key leaders, including Brent Kisling, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and Workforce Development, Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz, State Chief Information Officer Jerry Moore, and State Purchasing Director Dan Sivard.
“The breakout session with CIO Jerry Moore was fantastic,” Wager said. “Jerry shared critical knowledge about budget timelines and other best practices for engaging the state. Moving forward, I will only attend events that run similar to this one."
The state also incorporated an event mobile app for the Expo’s second year, giving visitors the option to network with other attendees and access breakout presentation materials from the palm of their hand, even after they left the Oklahoma City Convention Center.
The State Suppliers Expo is just one way Oklahoma is transforming how it does business. The state also recently launched a modernized online Oklahoma Supplier Portal, which will continue to grow and streamline the supplier experience. Currently, the new portal allows companies to manage their own business information and, in early 2023, is slated to make searching and submitting bids easier than ever. The improvements aim to eliminate needless paperwork and help companies get back to their missions.