Image: SmartProcure

Image: SmartProcure

Working as an auxiliary officer for the Delray Beach (Fla.) Police Department, Jeff Rubenstein discovered that the city's Fire Department had purchased the exact same AEDs as the Police Department planned to buy, but for a much lower price. How could that be the case? Frustrated, Rubenstein set out to even the playing field for government agencies by allowing them to share information about their purchases. Now he is the founder and CEO of SmartProcure.

SmartProcure is an online database that allows members to login and search purchasing information from 7,000 local, state, and federal government agencies. Through the online Web portal users have access to 170 million purchase orders, including historical data going back to 2008.

"We made a very simple database as easy to use as Google," says Rubenstein. "You can type in an item, or a city, or a vendor, and you get an entire dossier of all of those purchases and find out who bought them at what price, when, and from whom."

As an example of how departments can use SmartProcure to save, a user can search the database and see that departments have bought the exact same popular printer for prices ranging from $350 to $850. Without this information to find the best available rates, two agencies or even divisions within the same large agency might easily pay vastly different amounts for the printer without realizing it.

You can also use SmartProcure not only to validate prices, but to find vendors. "Who have other departments been buying from, locally and nationally? What are they buying? It's great from a sourcing perspective," says Rubenstein.

For larger purchases, SmartProcure is also a great source for information needed to write requests for proposal (RFPs), which require a great deal of knowledge and research to write effectively. This is especially helpful if you haven't purchased an item recently and could use some guidance in what questions to even ask to determine parameters and specs, instead of starting from scratch. You can go into the database and see, for example, a list of 15 cities that have issued RFPs for the particular item you plan to purchase. "We provide contact info at each of those cities so you can contact your peer there to ask for info," says Rubenstein. "You can ask them if they wouldn't mind sharing the RFP they put together."

To help make the buying process easier for the next time you need to purchase any item, you can save searches as well as set up alerts in SmartProcure. If you often buy ammunition, for example, you can set up an alert for price changes. Then you'll be notified anytime an agency buys the specified product at a certain price or below a certain threshold.

Soon, a new feature will also allow agencies to request a quote from vendors directly through SmartProcure. Currently, you can search and find a vendor in the database, but you then have to log out of the system and make a phone call to the vendor. Then you need to provide details of what you want to buy and figure out how to contact a representative for your area.

"Agencies said they wanted to stay within the system and request a purchase order through it," says Rubenstein. "Now they can click a button, get a list of top vendors, ask for quotes, and automatically send it through to the vendor."

SmartProcure is currently free to agencies, as long as they provide their purchasing information to be shared in the database. SmartProcure then sells this data to vendors. Rubenstein says it takes just minutes to set up an account. You can even send your purchasing information as is, and SmartProcure will reformat it if needed. Then you can login and start reaping the benefits.

"We want to help government agencies be more effective purchasers so they can be more successful in what they do," says Rubenstein.

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