We’re sitting down with procurement professionals in different organizations to hear about how they approach their work, how Bonfire fits into their day-to-day, and the resources and tools that keep them on track.
This month’s guest is Joel Neaveill, Director of Purchasing at Louisville Metro Government in Louisville, Kentucky. Joel and his team are responsible for the management of over 1,100 contracts that assist in the programmatic and operational functions of the city. Needless to say, he gets things done! Here’s more on how he does it.
First of all, tell us a bit about your background and how you got to your current role?
I started my role with the city in January 2016. Prior to that I spent 16 years working for the Commonwealth of Kentucky in various program development and policy roles. I was asked to come work for the city to help provide some improvements to the procurement process.
What’s your primary goal in your role?
My goal when I came here was to create a procurement program that is one with integrity, one with transparency, a trusted program, and one that makes sense to the common user.
In procurement in general, I’ve found that there is lack of knowledge of what the processes really are. We follow our state law, our local ordinance, and we also create policy — all of those have to make sense. What we try to do is make sense of things that aren’t written to make sense in layman's terms. What I hope to do over the course of my time here is to demystify the process — not only to employees who are part of the process, but also externally to our vendors. We need to be the experts on that process so we can advise others.
How do you start your day?
Coffee. Then email.
My role is two-sided, overseeing purchasing and accounts payable; on the purchasing side, I find myself going to Bonfire first to see what new vendors have registered, what questions have been submitted, what activity we’re seeing on which projects, and if there have been any submissions overnight.
That’s kind of a cool thing about Bonfire — it used to be that projects would have a closing time of, let’s say, 3 o’clock, and the buyers would be listening for the door down the hall, and inevitably there would be someone coming in at the last minute to do the old ‘chu-chunk’ timestamp, and put it in the bid box. We don’t have people doing that anymore — it’s fantastic. From the comfort of their home, vendors can submit a response.
So I start the day by looking at the activity that’s happened, especially if there are any higher-profile bids or projects that have seen any activity.
How is that different now, compared to when you began your role?
When I joined, from day to day, if anyone asked me where a particular bid was, or who the buyer was, or what the status of any one bid was, I could not tell them, because I had no formal way of tracking that. I started looking at what available tools were out there for us.
I wondered, do we create our own, do we have the expertise to do that? I learned pretty quickly that we do not. From a manager’s perspective, I needed to get a handle on how to manage the workflow.
What publications/resources do you turn to for industry info?
My background is not procurement, but I’m always trying to learn more about the thing I’m focused on, so for the last two years I’ve just tried to immerse myself in everything procurement.
NIGP, the national institute for public procurement, has a daily feed of purchase issues and questions that are being raised across the country. So they might say, ‘hey has anyone done an RFP for salt trucks?’ or ‘how do you structure a public/private partnership on RFPs?’ People help to step in and advise on solutions to particular issues. The NIGP forums, publications, and certification process — I am completely absorbing these like a sponge.
I also read a lot of the publications of the GFOA - the Government Finance Officers Association. And whenever an issue comes up, I always go back to our law — I always go back to ask, what is the governing statute, what is the law, how is this issue framed within the context of the governing law? I have those bookmarked in my browser.
How do you stay organized?
One thing that helps is being able to compartmentalize priorities and know what can and cannot be delegated. If you can find tools that help you do that, and they’re not too incredibly expensive — make the business case to obtain those tools.
Bonfire is one of the tools that your team has implemented. What has it brought to your procurement process?
There’s consistency of message. There is assurance that the platform we are using is consistent to our end users, and there is more communication between our evaluators and our buyers. That’s one of the best things — there is more communication about the specifics of each project.
As a manager, I can go in to review anyone’s work at any time. It allows me to let them know that I am watching for consistency and watching to ensure our policies are applied across all of our projects. It’s an invaluable tool from a management perspective.
There’s also more teamwork among buyers. Every week, there’s a standing meeting and everyone goes through Bonfire to look at the projects in various stages — where we are at, who we are waiting on, what’s next?
When I first got here, it seemed as though there was a very hierarchical structure — if you had a question, you went to the purchasing manager. Now, they’re asking each other, ‘hey, how did you handle that?’ and ‘how did you set this one up?’ In the end, we need to be the experts on how to get the procurement completed and advising the departments on the best way to do that. The more we learn from each other, the better we can serve those departments in getting their needs accomplished.
Do you have any advice to offer about a career in procurement?
Oftentimes, the longer you work in government, you tend to get jaded — either by the process, or people’s attitudes. Especially in today’s environment, there are people who look at government and their functions as unnecessary or excessive. It is an uphill battle always to defend your profession.
What I have kept in the back of my mind, in my experiences throughout 18 years of service, is that the vast majority of people that are in public service are good people who are trying to do the right thing. We may argue about the way in which we get things done. But in general, no matter what side of the aisle you may be on, everybody is trying to do the right thing.
We can’t look at our functions through the lens of a critic, thinking that people have the worst intentions. We have to put policies in place to prevent those things, but not at the expense of those that are trying to do the right thing. I keep that in mind every day of my work.
Thank you, Joel, for sharing your perspectives. Stay tuned for the next installment in the series next month!