Philadelphia is going paperless with its contracting services.
In an effort to modernize and streamline government, city officials will begin accepting bids and proposals for contracts electronically this fall. The move will free the procurement department of hundreds of boxes of paper bids from businesses seeking city contracts. It will also, officials hope, make it more inviting for businesses to bid on city work.
"Our processes are cumbersome and businesses have complained, rightfully so," Rebecca Rhynhart, chief administrative officer in charge of the digital overhaul, said this week. "It's hard to do business with us, and we're trying to change that."
Rhynhart and other city officials are working to make every aspect of contracting electronic - from the bidding itself to allowing for electronic signatures from vendors and department heads.
The website www.PHLcontracts.phila.gov went live Wednesday to allow businesses that want to contract with the city to register online. The procurement department has already transferred 1,400 businesses that are active with the city to the online registry.
Bids should start appearing online in October and electronic bidding will start in November, according to Trevor Day, the city's procurement commissioner.
The ability to sign documents digitally will start as a pilot program this fall with some major departments.
"In 2017, we are looking to go completely electronic," Christine Derenick-Lopez, first deputy chief administrative officer, said.
The city signs more than 1,000 new contracts each year.
Professional services contracts, such as consultants, accountants, and lawyers whom the city hires, already go through an electronic process. The change from paper to electronic will be new for public works, construction and supply vendors.
The nonprofessional service vendors are also the ones that the city has struggled to diversify. Supply and equipment contracts worth $1 million or less on average get two or three bidders, according to a city analysis of bids.
"For the taxpayers, that doesn't say efficiency, right? We need to change that," Rhynhart said.
She is hoping that by improving the system, more businesses will bid. The more bidders, the more likely the city will get a lower price on work and products.
The city would like to see at least six bidders per contract, ideally eight, Day said.
City officials are also hoping to shorten the time to finalize a contract.
It once took about 160 days to complete a public works contract, from the initial request for a service to a signed contract. Procurement officials have reduced that to 115 days through efficiencies, Derenick-Lopez said. The goal is 90 days once the e-procurement system is live, she said.
There are other nonelectronic aspects of the city's contracting process that could use reform, Rhynhart and Day said. But technology was the obvious issue to fix first.
"This is low-hanging fruit in some senses," Day said of the current fixes. "I think there are best practices out there and part of that is training."