City of Leesburg Goes 100% Digital
City of Leesburg - Mike Thornton, CPPO
Industry: Public Sector
Software Modules: Solicitation Module, Contract Module
The City of Leesburg is a Florida Municipality located in Lake County approximately 40 miles Northwest of Orlando. Leesburg has a population of approximately 23,000 people.
The Procurement Division of the City is responsible for coordinating all purchasing activity. The office is managed by Mike Thornton, assisted by Senior Buyer, Lisa Wolfkill, and Buyer Melanie Ortiz.
The division operates a centralized with delegated authority structure and has a current annual budget of $157 million, facilitating for approximately 60 formal solicitations each year with a mix of IFBs, RFPs, and RFQs.
Before using Mercell, the City of Leesburg was preparing all solicitation documents using Microsoft Word to create PDFs for distribution and publish the documents through an online bid notification system. This system allowed for bid acceptance through a file upload of completed hardcopy forms. The city also accepted hardcopy physical bid responses.
The city has adopted Mercell as its e-Procurement platform in February, 2018. We have interviewed Purchasing Manager, Mike Thornton, on his experiences. In this interview, Mike discusses how his office operated before Mercell, and the value Mercell has added to their day to day activities.
"The capabilities of the Mercell platform is the future of public procurement in the United States." -Mike Thornton, CPPO
Q: How did you find out about Mercell?
A: I learned of Mercell at the 2017 NIGP Forum in Salt Lake City. I presented a workshop on digital signatures which was attended by Jan Siderius, the President of Mercell USA (back then called Negometrix). Following the session we started a discussion on best practices which led to discussion of public procurement in Europe and how the Mercell platform is a true electronic platform with capabilities to support Best Value Procurement.
"All of the evaluators like the new system. There was a very short learning curve but once they saw the flow and how it worked they liked it better than our previous method of evaluating."
Q: Did you have any hesitations starting to work with Mercell? How did that work out?
A: There was certainly some hesitation in working with Mercell. They are a major system in the European Union but had no presence in the United States. Jan and one of his staff members visited us at the City and provided an initial demonstration of the Mercell platform. That first demonstration was very overwhelming as the capabilities of the system are many and different from how our solicitations are processed now.
We, like many government agencies rely on the ‘low bid wins’ method of award for most of our purchases. The value of the Mercell platform is the ability to apply criteria and weighting to provide an automated Best Value Analysis. It can of course also accommodate straight low bid with dollar amount being 100% of the criteria.
Q: How was your experience with the software after running your first pilot project?
A: We began using the software with two pilot projects. We had two RFQs for Engineering Services. We ran these solicitations only through Mercell. This was our first attempt at running a procurement 100% electronic from notification, solicitation, acceptance, and evaluation. The results were very good! Our suppliers did not experience any issues with registering on the system and participating in our RFQ.
We received no complaints from suppliers. We actually received comments that they like the system and that it saved them time and expense. The number of submissions was more than we normally receive through our traditional methods.
Once the solicitation closed, all evaluations were completed online by our evaluation committee members. The system then automatically scores and ranks the evaluation using the criteria setup during preparation of the RFQ. I was concerned our evaluators would not like the on-line system. Prior to Mercell, evaluators were given hardcopy responses and a spreadsheet to enter their scores. All of the evaluators like the new system. There was a very short learning curve but once they saw the flow and how it worked they liked it better than our previous method of evaluating.
Q: What has Mercell added to your organization?
A: Mercell provides a very robust system capable of managing the full solicitation process from planning and contract administration. The system also manages and logs all communications with suppliers.
I have said that Mercell is the future of US Public Procurement. In my professional opinion, the European Union Public Procurement is progressive. Starting October 2018 all EU government agencies will be required to accept solicitation responses by electronic means only.
The ability to collaborate electronically on solicitation preparation with team members and stakeholders is another benefit to the system.
Q: And to your suppliers?
A: This system allows vendors to submit their responses 100% electronically, eliminating preparation and delivery expenses as well as providing additional time for response preparation and submission.
There will be a learning curve with some of our suppliers. But as long as we provide the required support and education I am confident they will use and see the benefits of the system. I believe government agencies tend to let the ‘few’ deter them from being progressive. It is our responsibility to bring the reluctant suppliers up with us and not let the few hold us back from providing efficient government processes.
"We are constantly being pressed to do more with the same or less resources. A system that consolidates all phases in one platform provides efficiencies that will allow us to do more."
Q: What would you advise others that are considering to shift their processes online?
A: Most systems I have seen allow you to take your current paper system and shove it into an electronic system. The Mercell system is a true 100% electronic system and we will need to rework our entire process for a true electronic procurement system.
There are many things to take into consideration when changing. Items such as originals, hardcopy, and file copies. Switching to true e-procurement is more involved than just uploading a file and accepting uploaded responses.
Q: Would you recommend Mercell to your peers in public purchasing?
A: Yes I would. The capabilities of the Mercell platform is the future of public procurement in the United States. The staff at Mercell has the knowledge and experience to take us to the future.
Q: Any final comments?
A: Following the first demonstration, I was overwhelmed with the capabilities of the Mercell platform. The platform was so different from what we was used to in an e-RFx management system that it was difficult to wrap our head around it.
Once we used the system on the two engineering RFQs and now on a Janitorial Supplies RFP, we fully understand how it works. We know the capabilities and benefits of the system and are very pleased with the direction we are headed.
For more information about Mike, and the procurement division of Leesburg, see:
Below, you will find Leesburg’s public profile on Mercell:
City of Leesburg Solicitations & Contracts, Powered by Mercell
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