Which came first, the member or the need?
How a cooperative contract is born
A category is developed with the sole focus of providing solutions to meet the needs of our members. At our core, we are service driven; by being our own lead agency, we are nimble in our ability to satisfy our member’s needs.
By Jenny Holmes
It's a bit like the age-old debate. Which came first? The chicken or the egg? When regarding cooperative purchasing, it's a fair question to ask. Which came first, the member or the need?
In just the past six months, National Joint Powers Alliance has developed three new categories within its Cooperative Purchasing Contract Solutions. Merged into an already existing 79 categories housing nearly 300 contracts, many of these solutions were created at the request of NJPA members.
Discovery - focusing on member needs
Scott Carr, Contract Administrator at NJPA, said the organization takes member feedback, as well as requests for product and service, very seriously.
“A category is developed with the sole focus of providing solutions to meet the needs of our members,” Carr said. “At our core, we are service driven; by being our own lead agency, we are nimble in our ability to satisfy our member's needs. Whether it's a trend in member requests for a solution or being proactive by identifying an increasingly developing market, we are able to dedicate the resources required to ensure our members' current and potential needs are met.”
Carr said when a request is made to develop a new category within NJPA's Cooperative Purchasing division, the organization takes a hard look at the number of users the particular area would reach and benefit.
A prime, and recent, example is NJPA's Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment category. Carr said a number of member agencies expressed their need for help in understanding and purchasing electric vehicle infrastructure to support the growing trend of electric and alternative fuel vehicles in fleet.
"Fleets that are on the fence on going electric complain that
they lack an existing contract to buy the required equipment
and this solves the problem."
-Michael Terreri, Center for Sustainable Energy®
Recognizing the need as widespread among its membership, NJPA's Contract Administration team presented the proposed category addition to its Board of Directors. Receiving a unanimous go-ahead from the board, Carr began an involved research and development phase. The board-to-solicitation process, typically takes four to five months, Carr noted.
Research, research, research
“When I took on the project, I thought ‘how hard can it be?’ It's a box with power cords to it,” Carr laughed, in regard to charging stations. “But I quickly learned there is much more than meets the eye in this industry. It's so much more complex.”
Over the next few months, Carr dove deep into the electric vehicle industry, contacting industry experts and partner organizations. Through these conversations, Carr gained a high-level overview of electric vehicle infrastructure to better position NJPA to become an expert in the field.
The second step in the process was to research key market players within the space. Carr researched the names of electric vehicle equipment producers and, later, had in-depth conversations with roughly 30 vendors regarding the who, what, and how of the industry.
“It was important I understood the dynamics of each and every vendor out there,” Carr said. “They all have unique solutions; but, in the end, we needed to find the best solutions for our members.”
Throughout the research and development phase, Carr also remained in contact with interested members who initially requested the pursuit of electric vehicle supply equipment. Often, members took part in the vendor calls with Carr to learn the ins and outs of the market from security to data practices.
The nitty-gritty - crafting the scope
Next, it was time to write the Request for Proposal (RFP), an official and public document that beckons responses from potential vendors. Of particular importance is the scope, which defines in detail the types of solutions the RFP intends to solicit.
Crafting the scope is where Carr's industry expertise comes into play. With a deep understanding of member needs and existing solutions, Carr lists proposal requirements that ensure only all-encompassing players respond.
The RFP process for this particular area opened in March 2017 and concluded in May 2017. NJPA's Proposal Evaluation Committee took it from there, opening and reviewing all fourteen responsive vendors.
The committee awarded contracts to the five vendors who were deemed the best and most responsive and responsible. Their solutions are now available to NJPA members.
“As demonstrated by some of our newer categories, we see technology advancements presenting opportunities for our members to become more efficient in their day-to-day operations,” Carr said. “Whether it's assisting our members in meeting their green initiatives or filling a void in IT services, we continually seek to provide a robust set of solutions to meet our members' ever-changing needs.”
Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with over 200 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.