The Chelan County Public Utility District did nothing magical to win IACCM’s Strategic Direction Award at the IACCM Americas conference in November of 2019. They didn’t need magic. They got smart!
The award was poignant, an appropriate reflection of a well-managed utility company that stepped into the modern age by transitioning critical business processes to the Cloud using a Software as a Service (SaaS) based platform.
Chelan was facing many contract and supplier management challenges. This article shares the journey they took to meet those challenges. During the design phases of the project, Chelan named the initiative “ACT” for the Automated Contracting Tool.
Before ACT was introduced
Chelan’s contract and supplier management function relied upon a collection of dated tools, the primary one being Microsoft Access and a collection of others. After several years of investigation and some false starts, Chelan decided to purchase an internally-hosted system provided by Corridor Company, Inc., to manage their contracts.
This replaced the existing home-grown supplier management function. So, after the project began, and just before the design process was almost completed, Corridor shared details on its next generation Cloud platform titled Contracts 365,1 which included a Supplier Management function. After further vetting Contracts 365, Chelan decided to fully move forward with both the contract and the supplier functions.
Moving past the proverbial “Cloud” hump involved some unforeseen consequences. The nature of the data managed by Chelan required heightened level of security, because many of the documents and data were classified and required NERC certification.2 But, ultimately, the platform was approved: all content was stored in Chelan’s Office 365 system by using Contracts 365.
ACT One – responding to Cloud requirements
With approval received by the Chelan Board, the project team revisited the Cloud based requirements which could accommodate the process of managing the supplier solicitations in addition to managing a large amount of “peripheral” data in the system. This included:
- board resolutions;
- architectural evaluations for potential suppliers;
- retainer data for the contract; and
- prevailing wage data
Three challenges to overcome
- The existing legacy system managed the data in a unique and blended way that involved working with highly comingled solicitation and contract data. Substantially, this departed from the structure offered by Contracts 365 and other similar systems. However, Mark Belton, a contract specialist at Chelan County PUD and project lead, was ready to embrace the change and lead his team and the organization through the transition.
- Chelan had a very extensive approval process and with the new system being introduced, they wanted to add more workflow steps initially to ensure that the process of approving contracts and solicitations was followed very explicitly. This would require even more effort from those involved in the approval process of both contracts and solicitations, and the change management approach was critical in order to ensure success.
- They needed to migrate existing data and documents with potential data integrity issues. This was compounded by their having to migrate data to and from very different data structures.
Given these challenges, Mark and his team worked aggressively and thoroughly through the process. He introduced a very strong change management program for his contracting team and the entire organization, because so many people were impacted by this process. Additionally, it was agreed that the first stage or “business release” of the initiative would be inward facing only with no direct access by Chelan’s suppliers.
After launching ACT One, the Chelan team immediately started to recognize the value of the system with reduced contract and solicitation processing times and improved usability for the users. As a result, the organization settled into a new pace as they embraced the platform.
ACT Two – launching the secured supplier portal
The next stage for Chelan involved the enabling the secured supplier portal where approved suppliers and contractors could access secured solicitation information. This is a complex process, because Chelan maintains tight controls regarding the required solicitation qualifications which must be current and valid. Once suppliers gain access, they are able to securely peruse and participate in solicitations as they bid on work for Chelan.
Key challenges included the need to ensure a strong “qualification” protocol to give qualified suppliers the opportunity to bid on solicitations which require qualifications. Also, introducing the supplier portal required synchronizing data and documents between the secured supplier sites and the internal site used by the Chelan team and properly configure the data to reflect Chelan’s business rules.
Chelan is now enabling the supplier portal. Once enabled, the economic and convenience benefits of a self-service supplier portal will be quickly recognized by all parties involved.
ACT Three – going public
Chelan will launch the public portion of the supplier management site to post public solicitation information and to allow suppliers and contractors to directly register for the secured supplier portal in Act Two. When making portal access anonymous to the world at large, they needed to introduce additional security precautions to fully isolate the public site from all other sites and to introduce a secondary synchronization mechanism within Contracts 365 to provide the appropriate controls and protections.
Key challenges included introducing a new public-site to mirror Chelan’s normal public site user interface (UI) as well as identifying which information should be made available for public consumption.
ACT Three will follow soon after ACT Two to allow both Chelan and their suppliers to have a comprehensive and full end-to-end cycle to manage all information related to contracts and solicitations.
In reflecting upon the back story of this initiative and the success that Chelan achieved, the team learned some key lessons.
- First, there were expert managers at the executive and operational levels to ensure successful results. They were prepared for the best and worst and dealt with the inevitable issues and resistance resulting from the significant changes.
- Second, the significance of migrating content cannot be understated. So much can happen to a database after it has been used for over ten years and it is important to prepare for the migration accordingly.
- Third, the project introduced features and capabilities from the start in a prioritized and controlled way and plans for iterations were efficiently timed.