Another TribalNet conference has come and gone. The conversations and learning opportunities at the Grande Sierra Resort were non-stop during this year’s event in September. TribalNet always provides a great opportunity to discuss key issues that are top of mind for Tribes.
Throughout conversation after conversation at this year’s conference, one thing became very apparent; Tribes are in need of technology, and they continue to search for the most effective solutions that allow them to focus on their goals. Conversations ranged from what technology is best to run our government, best for our gaming facilities, can better support our members, and can meet fiscal needs like procurement solutions.
When it comes to procurement, the Varis team definitely heard several concerns in our conversations with attendees who are struggling with overly complex and inefficient processes. Here are the three we heard most often:
Reducing the Burden on Procurement Employees
In general, procurement teams are telling us that they are facing increased pressure in this post-COVID world. Many have had to take on additional responsibility even as they adjust to the changes caused by the pandemic, such as adapting to remote and/or hybrid working arrangements.
One of those pressures is having to source pricing through a variety of options under these challenging conditions. Best pricing is always the goal, but doing this without sacrificing quality and service can be challenging. Especially since many organizations’ budgets may not allow them to buy the quantity of products to qualify for larger discounts. Procurement professionals are being asked to search for available Co-op, and sharable “piggyback” contracts to get what they need. These searches can involve many time-consuming phone calls and web searches that often have no results because there is a lack of sites to visit.
If they are unable to locate a contract, the next step is an even more time-consuming and expensive process: going out to bid. Many tribal procurement offices have less than a handful of employees to complete the many tasks procurement performs. Daily review and approval of requisitions, purchase orders, and invoicing alone can take almost a full day. When an employee is pulled from their tasks to create and solicit a bid for a specific purchase, their workload increases and causes a backlog of already assigned tasks.
Additionally, resources from subject matter experts in other departments may also be needed for bid creation and response reviews creating further bottlenecks within multiple departments. Beyond the bottlenecks is the potential six-to-nine-month delay in implementing a time-sensitive and needed product or service.
Protecting Data Integrity
Data security comes up in most conversations around new solutions for Tribes, including procurement. In today’s environment, the trend is towards purpose-built solutions. This means a tribe could have several platform solutions from multiple vendors to solve a need. It is not uncommon to hear of a finance office moving away from an expensive enterprise resource platform (ERP) and implementing separate budget, bid, grants, and purchasing modules from best-of-breed vendors. While this can bring better overall solutions, it comes with its own challenges.
Tribes have specific rules in place to protect their data. This can make integrating multiple solutions troublesome in the finance office. Attendees at Tribal Net were seeking vendors who understood this requirement and could demonstrate that they could handle these needs appropriately.
Of course, IT managers will have their own list of data integrity needs for any new solution. Typically, the IT managers we spoke with want all individual solutions within the finance office to be able to drop files into a SQL server environment that is separate from other finance operations. This will eliminate the concern of systems “talking” to each other and having a potential data breach.
Supporting Tribal Businesses
A third theme that came out of Tribal Net was the desire to support native-owned businesses, many of which are small businesses. They don’t have the marketing budget or outreach of much larger competitors, making it challenging for Tribal buyers to find and prioritize them. Tribal purchasing departments are looking for better ways to improve visibility into native-owned businesses to purchase from without straining their modest resources any further.
The Varis team had many discussions about how a curated purchasing network that connects Tribal buyers and suppliers would benefit both groups. Providing organizations with a centralized purchasing experience can combine the convenience of more consumer-like sites with the control and purchasing compliance organizations are looking for. For Native American-owned businesses, this approach is a cost-effective way to reach new customers.
While many Tribal purchasing offices are small, attendees at Tribal Net confirmed that their tasks list and responsibilities are not. This creates a need to find technology to support their ever-growing organizations. These technology platforms need to be flexible enough to support their processes while being built specifically to solve their needs. These include reduction of time around sourcing and identifying one-off and ongoing needs. Quick access to piggy-backable contracts, and available Co-op opportunities can eliminate the need for many bids, giving time back to their offices as a whole. All this needs to happen while bringing visibility to support Tribal businesses.