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Come One, Come All

The City of Tampa, Fla., tried some new tactics for getting companies to respond to its e-government RFP.

Bryan M. Gold
December 2000
Government Technology Magazine

A FEW MONTHS INTO THE YEAR 2000, the City of Tampa, Fla., decided to return its focus to something it had been pursuing before Y2K commanded the majority of its time and resources: e-government. The city issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a vendor to build an electronic government business portal and payment system.

"We wanted to [develop] a city portal that could handle both e-commerce [and] information publishing," said Adrienne Kernaghan, deputy director of the city's management information systems division. "We'd done quite a bit getting the Web site set up and getting through stage one. But after some analysis, we figured out we did not have internal funding to do the scope of projects the citizens deserved. So we decided to issue an RFP for a vendor to partner with the city in the development of a Tampa portal that had e-commerce capabilities."

The RFP called for the project to achieve several objectives:

  • Completing a self-supporting framework for the development and implementation of electronic government for the city.
  • Establishing an online payment system for applications.
  • Providing customer information services.
  • Supporting the Tampa Electronic Government Portal through an outsourced partnership with a contractor.
  • Establishing policies and procedures to govern the use of the portal subject to the approval of the city.
  • Creating a common format for applications accessed through the portal.

"The vendor would actually invest substantial capital in our site and then be able to reap the benefits long-term with reimbursements through transaction fees, subscription fees, publishing, whatever," said Kernaghan. "It was more than just a vendor coming in and developing a site. It was a new kind of business model."

City officials figured the project was likely to draw interest from a number of new and established eGovernment companies. But because the area of eGovernment is so new, a list of vendors capable of implementing such an electronic government portal was not available.

Steve Cantler, Tampa's MIS project leader, used the Internet to conduct searches for companies that provide the applications the city desired. Cantler also looked at trade publications and contacted other government jurisdictions.

"From there, it snowballed as word got out from one agency to another," said Cantler. "I started getting inquiries via telephone and from the Web. Organizations started to identify what the city was doing and posted it to their sites."

The city's purchasing department, by procedure, sent out a postcard mailing to every company Cantler identified. However, Cantler had an additional idea. "I didn't think that would be timely enough, so independent of the historical method, I used e-mail lists to accomplish that. I got a lot more and quicker response."

Cantler's e-mail messages also pointed companies to the city's Web site for more information.

"I tried to take some initiative in understanding that the process we were going through was pretty unique: the RFP itself, the nature of it," said Cantler. "Historically, the city looks for a specific tangible product or service. This RFP was different because it was testing the waters in education for vendors to tell us what services they could provide."

"The other thing that was unique was that we were soliciting proposals [that wouldn't cost the city anything]," he added. "That forced vendors to think about creative business plans to identify how their work efforts would be funded or how they would recover costs."

[ WORTH THE EFFORT ]

Cantler's effort was validated May 31, just two weeks after the RFP had been issued, when nearly 100 people representing 30 to 40 companies attended the pre-bid conference. Tampa's Kernaghan said some of the vendors at the conference decided that they weren't right for the project and withdrew from consideration.

The city received eight bids by the deadline. City officials wanted the vendors to be creative in their bids, and that's exactly what they got. Kernaghan said every vendor came up with a different business model, a different way of recouping the investment and a different way of making money. Tampa's goal was to have someone under contract by Oct. 1. The city and Gartner Group worked with the short list of vendors, set up demonstrations and helped with the negotiations. Kernaghan said the city needed to make sure there was no gap between what the vendors said they could do and what they could actually do, so Gartner also performed some background checks on the vendors.

[ THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE ]

After trimming the group to a few finalists, NIC came out on top, charged with the task of building and managing a comprehensive eGovernment portal for Tampa.

NIC officials said that through an innovative funding model developed by the company, portal services will be provided in a cost-effective manner to Tampa residents without requiring any upfront investments by the city. NIC will provide the infrastructure and staff expertise required to develop, maintain, and host the eGovernment services, while the city will retain ownership of the content, data and statutory fees. A convenience fee on some services will support the portal's development, maintenance and expansion.

Although the city isn't going to issue an RFP for a Web portal on a regular basis, it hopes to employ some of the techniques it used in this RFP for future RFPs. One of the bids included an application for auctioning surplus items, something Tampa officials may pursue. A reverse auction, in particular, is of interest to the city.