This month, the Human Services Council released its report on the initial impact of HHS Accelerator and, as a follow-up to the report, held a focus group meeting that allowed providers to share their feedback directly with the HHS Accelerator team. This is the latest example of HSC’s ongoing commitment to working with providers and government to streamline the way they do business. By improving the business relationship, we strengthen providers’ ability to deliver high-quality services to New Yorkers who need them.
New York City launched HHS Accelerator in 2013 to address the core challenges of the human services procurement process. The result of a detailed dialogue between the City government and the Human Services Council of New York and its members, this technology-driven solution standardizes the solicitation and contracting processes. The well-being of many human services organizations and of their clients in New York City depends on government procurement and contracting.
However, until nearly two years ago, identifying and responding to RFPs was a challenge. HHS Accelerator was launched to address the difficulties in procurement and contracting. Accelerator allows providers to store frequently requested documents, prequalify before competing for funds, apply for and manage contract awards online, and to track and submit financials.
HSC recognizes that HHS Accelerator is a drastic improvement but is also a work in progress. Based on a survey and interviews with our member organizations, HSC has produced a report on the initial impact of HHS Accelerator. Overall, HHS Accelerator has had a positive impact on the procurement process.
Before Accelerator, the process of procurement was overwhelmingly paper-driven, inefficient, and redundant. However, now the majority of providers consider the procurement process to be more efficient and straightforward. One serious problem before Accelerator was duplication of effort. For example, the same agency requesting the same document multiple times, or having to submit the exact same document to multiple agencies. The time spent sending in duplicate documents is valuable time that could be spent on providing essential services. HHS Accelerator has significantly improved on the hassle of duplication. Providers can upload documents to the Document Vault, which are then accessible by many City agencies. Accelerator has reduced the administrative burden of the solicitation process.
In addition, Accelerator has reduced inconsistency among and within agencies. Before the online system was introduced, each agency had its own procurement process. The majority of providers contract with multiple City agencies, however, so they would have to submit the same information in different formats. For example, every provider had to demonstrate its past experience in a service area to be qualified to apply for contracts in that area. With Accelerator, there is a uniform prequalification process that applies to all City human services agencies. Again, any time saved is indispensable in the nonprofit human services sector.
Before Accelerator, each agency also had its own process for publishing and notifying providers of RFPs. Trying to find opportunities meant either spending large amounts of time searching, or missing out on relevant prospects. Opportunities would be communicated in a myriad of ways, from email and mailing lists to private RFP services and word of mouth. HHS Accelerator asks providers to specify what services they provide and then identifies opportunities based on their selections. Accelerator is now the most relied upon source for finding RFPs, and the majority of survey responders indicated that Accelerator has made RFP identification easier.
The report provides much more in-depth analysis of the changes HHS Accelerator has brought about and how they affect providers’ procurement experience. The report also features ways in which respondents believe the procurement and contracting process and HHS Accelerator could be further improved. Overall, Accelerator has made life less stressful for providers, and the suggested improvements will make providing services to communities in need even easier.
To continue the streamlining process, HSC recently convened personnel from our member organizations and the HHS Accelerator team for a feedback-driven focus group. Not only did the entire HHS Accelerator team attend the meeting, but they led the group in an overview of updated features and a discussion about the user experience. Topics examined included the new RFP format, the document vault, file size, alerts, and trainings; those in attendance offered feedback on those and several other areas. The focus group was a success: not only was there a fantastic attendance from service providers and the Mayor’s Office of Operations, but the Accelerator team was incredibly open to feedback. We are looking forward to another focus group meeting and a continued partnership to improve and expand the system.
Contributed by Elizabeth Yates of the Human Services Council.