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In 1997, a new web-based bid solicitation system called Comm-PASS was launched by the Commonwealth. At the time, it was considered cutting edge. Unfortunately as time progressed, Comm-PASS no longer adequately met customer demand. Accordingly, the Operational Services Division (OSD) sought to create something better.

OSD began by looking at the whole procurement process from a customer viewpoint and brainstormed how they could create a market center which would both draw in more businesses offering products and services to the Commonwealth.While simultaneously attracting more purchasing from across all Massachusetts government organizations, including non-executive branch agencies, local governments and school systems, and the many buying departments within them. COMMBUYS strengthens the public sector’s buying power and creates a larger business opportunity for all sellers by assembling a buyer community from all levels of local and state government.

To realize this vision, OSD implemented COMMBUYS, a state-of-the-art electronic procurement system that is modernizing the way the state procures goods and services. COMMBUYS came online in March of 2014, on time and under budget, replacing Comm-PASS, which was retired at that time.

COMMBUYS has fundamentally changed the business experience for buyers and sellers. For buyers, COMMBUYS enables both end-to-end bid (procurement) management, and also implements online catalog purchasing from “blanket” statewide contracts. Online buying from catalogs is supported by automated workflow and approval paths. Because buyers anywhere in an agency can prepare purchasing requisitions and route them for approval, the ease and volume of buying activity increases and buyers can get what they need when they need it.

The online bid management capabilities of COMMBUYS revolutionize purchasing, since the entire process, from bid development, through approval, publication to vendors, receipt of quotes (responses), evaluation of quotes and bid award can now happen online. Bid teams from different locations and agencies can collaborate on procurements without leaving their offices, enabling unprecedented partnerships among different government entities. These partnerships also hold promise for increasing the buying power of the public sector while also creating bigger opportunities for business.

For sellers, COMMBUYS represents a single environment, available at no cost, in which to make their products and services available to Massachusetts government entities from the Berkshires to the tip of Cape Cod. Sellers build their business profile in COMMBUYS, specifying their products and services at a detailed commodity code level. This level of detail enables buyers seeking quotes to find the right sellers to meet their needs, and ensures that sellers receive targeted notices of new business opportunities.

From a financial perspective, COMMBUYS is designed to be self-funding. OSD is using the administrative fees collected through Statewide Contract purchases to re-pay (with interest) the bond proceeds used to fund the initial system implementation, and will continue to fund COMMBUYS operations with these fee revenues. This arrangement means no tax dollars or future appropriations will be needed to fund COMMBUYS.

The COMMBUYS system is a major innovation for the Commonwealth, and there is still more to come. COMMBUYS Phase II focuses on implementing an interface between COMMBUYS and MMARS (Massachusetts Management Accounting and Reporting System), the state’s accounting and reporting system. This interface will allow for online funds availability checking within the purchasing workflow. That capability, coupled with electronic invoicing and payment, will eliminate manual, paper-based processes and create a true automated procurement-to-payment system. Phase II is slated to come online near the end of 2014.

COMMBUYS Phase III, rolling out mid-2015, will put a  powerful analytics dashboard into the hands of buyers, enabling them to analyze trends and patterns, gain insights into their spending and procurement activities, and use that information to optimize their buying activity going forward. COMMBUYS is able to capture all purchasing and procurement activities at a detailed level, and by the time Phase III goes live, COMMBUYS will have a rich repository of data for analysis.

COMMBUYS is a cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) procurement solution which has allowed the project to launch more quickly. Additionally, a SaaS approach – because it can’t be customized extensively – provided OSD the chance to think differently about contracts and streamline certain processes.  A significant challenge during implementation was migrating over 90,000 documents from Comm-PASS, a custom application, into the COMMBUYS SaaS environment. And since the Commonwealth implementation team did not need to focus on local software installation, they have been able to devote time to COMMBUYS system administration and customer support activities.

The move to COMMBUYS has proceeded with speed and care, with a focus on preserving business continuity through the entire process. Existing Statewide Contracts remain unchanged, with all existing terms, conditions and payment agreements intact, and are up and available in COMMBUYS.

The COMMBUYS market center is the foundation for expanding business in the Commonwealth. We envision a community of active commerce, with thousands of buyers connecting with tens of thousands of sellers. Today we’re working to grow our COMMBUYS community and make that vision a reality.

For more information on the COMMBUYS system, please visit:
http://www.mass.gov/osd/commbuys

 

Written By:


Gary Lambert was appointed Assistant Secretary for Operational Services in 2011.
During his 34 years of professional work experience in, or working with, the public sector he has provided subject matter expertise in the area of public sector spend management, and procurement. Mr. Lambert is the executive sponsor and champion for the Commonwealth’s new COMMBUYS market center “Connecting Business With Government”.


Digital Communications Intern
Megan Schatzman manages digital communications for the Office of the Government Innovation Officer (OGIO). She is also a dual degree candidate for both Marketing and Information Systems at Suffolk University. Megan is passionate about innovation and the effective utilization of multiple digital media channels. She has 5 years of experience in strategic social media usage and is a recipient of the Xerox Award for Innovation and Information Technology.

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