As a former Recorder in San Bernardino County—the largest county in the contiguous United States—we dealt with many different kinds of vendors during my tenure. We dealt with consultants, salespeople, contractors, subcontractors, architects, engineers and subject matter experts as they proposed systems, services, products, and more importantly themselves.
My observation and experience was that most vendors had limited understanding of what they were proposing. They had difficulty explaining their product or service as to how it would work in our office or how it could enhance or streamline services, workflow and processes. The lack of understanding of our core business, the industry and customers was apparent.
To illustrate this point, for my first RFP (request for proposal) as the Chief Deputy Recorder, I was tasked with a project to replace the carpet in the main lobby—something that may seem simple and straightforward to purchase.
It was my responsibility to oversee and manage the daily operations and provide services we offer to the public in a professional and safe environment. However, the carpet in the main lobby was about ten years old, torn, unravelling, taped with masking tape to stop the unravelling, dirty, and did not align to the tile evenly—which caused people to stumble.
One of many services we offered on a daily basis was performing wedding ceremonies. We had three onsite locations and could have up to thirty guests depending on the location reserved. All three locations required access through the main lobby. We also offered walk-in services where couples could get married the same day, as long as they came into our office by 4 pm. This information is important because:
- Wedding parties bring higher volumes of walk-in traffic because this service is not provided on the Internet,
- They include brides, bridesmaids, mothers, grandmothers and other guests who wear dresses and high heels—which get caught in the unraveling carpet or where the carpet did not meet the tile evenly, causing safety concerns,
- Due to the nature of our business and the state requirements, we could not close during regular business hours or have any potential safety issues during business hours when work was being performed after hours.
Prior to the submission of the proposals, we conducted a mandatory pre-bid walk-through to point out the above-mentioned areas of concern, so vendors could propose solutions in their proposals.
When we received our proposals, no one offered after-hours installation; no one offered solutions to address our concerns, especially the uneven area where the tile and carpet met; and two vendors proposed a loose-weave carpet, so they could provide the county with the lowest bid. However they both proposed the same carpet, and there was $4,500 cost difference. Needless to say we went back out to bid.
If a carpet vendor had submitted a proposal that provided solutions for the above-mentioned areas of concern, we would have been able to put that proposal on the top of the list immediately because it stood out from the rest, addressed our needs, and impressed us by demonstrating they listened and understood the type of business we were in—which would have given us the confidence to make a decision.
That’s why client-side knowledge is so essential when a “vendor” seeks to become a true “partner.” What sets a partner aside from a typical group of vendors? One key attribute is the ability to understand clients’ needs and the needs of their customers, and to foresee future needs and requirements. It is important to understand who their customers are, what they do and why—as well as understanding how a particular county, city, state or federal agency conducts business.
As a partner, it is important that we understand our customers depend on us to provide solutions that work well at a competitive price. Here are just a few things we know that our clients consider in the case of government records management:
- How will your system, product or service improve my productivity?
- How will my employees be impacted by your system, product or service? How many key strokes can be saved, how long before they get response, and how have other customers’ employees been impacted?
- Are my records safe? Will I lose anything during the conversion?
- What sets your system apart from any of the others?
- How will my customers be impacted, Are my customers going to like it? Is it simple to use? Does it provide them with the tools for easy access to the information they are looking for?
- What is new? What new products and features should I be aware of?
- What I can expect for you in the future? What are you working on?
- What am I getting for this investment, and how will it benefit my office, my customers and the county overall?
- I want to know your service record. Are your customers happy with you? Do you respond to their needs? Would they rehire you?
- Are you my partner—now and going forward? Will you still be in business in the next two years?
- Do you understand the issues and stay current on laws and regulations?
- What will the solution cost, for budget purposes, to see if it is worth the investment of county, staff and myself to put time in preparing an RFP and evaluating proposals?
Having worked for both government and business has helped me to foresee these questions and help you find answers to them. It is really not just about price anymore; it is about doing more with less, and simplifying your work, while being as efficient and productive as possible.
I know you need to determine if it is worth the investment of the county, staff and yourself to find a new government records management system. However, finding the right system can be more than worth the time and effort in improving operations and productivity. It isn’t just a good idea; it’s essential.