This week we caught up with Gary Lambert, the Assistant Secretary for Operational Services for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Gary Lambert was appointed assistant secretary for Operational Services on March 21, 2011. Prior to this appointment, Gary held a number of leadership positions over his 30-plus years in the public and private sector. During his tenure at the Operational Services Division (OSD), Gary and his leadership team have executed a number of programmatic and organizational changes focused on outcomes that benefit OSD’s customers through the use of The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Gary served as an advisor to the TechAmerica Foundation’s State & Local Government Cloud Commission, and he is a member and past president of the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO).
Mr. Lambert is a graduate of Suffolk University with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and a recipient of NASPO’s Giulio Mazzone Distinguished Service Award in 1998.
NASPO STAFF: Gary, you have been heavily involved with NASPO, even serving as the NASPO president in 1999 and on the NASPO Board of Directors. Why do you value your membership with NASPO?
GARY: I’m a unique member because I’m also a Life Member. I’ve been involved with NASPO since 1991. My first Annual Meeting was in Indianapolis and I remember at the time Giulio Mazzone was there and basically said, “You’re going to get out of this association what you put into it and there are a lot of people who are here to help but you have to show that you are as committed to it as they are”. Twenty-eight years later, I still remember that conversation and those words. From being so involved, I get a lot of from this association on a lot of levels. I get a lot of information from peers. I get a lot of ideas from content that’s produced and conversations that are going on that I might not be directly involved in but that I am following. All of that helps me figure out where we should head in relation to what the government in Massachusetts is trying to accomplish. If you don’t have everyone’s opinion you can’t formulate the best way to move forward with your agenda.
NASPO STAFF: The State of Massachusetts won the Silver Award for the 2018 George Cronin Award for Procurement Excellence for expanding the access and usage of their eProcurement solution, COMMBUYS, to local governments. Tell me about the relationship OSD has built with local governments in the Commonwealth and how you help them achieve savings by using statewide contract and taking advantage of COMMBUYS’ functionality.
GARY: The functionality of COMMBUYS is similar to every other eProcurement system but I think the interesting thing that we did is that when we went out to bid for a solution, we didn’t look at it as a state solution but looked at it from a Massachusetts government public sector solution. Local governments are free to get set up and are provided with free training. There’s nothing that says, “you must, you shall, you will”. From a data perspective, now about fifty percent of the total dollar value of purchases from statewide contracts are from local governments and not executive. We don’t have hard data, but I would estimate this is up from about thirty to thirty-five percent of the total dollar value.
We’ve really focused our energy on using COMMBUYS to promote awareness of the services and contracts available to local governments. We went out to offer this solution and spent most of our time on building the relationship between state and local government. “What is it you are looking to try to get and did you know we have a contract for that? Would you like us to tell you more about that?”. If they say “no” we understand and more often then not they come back to us at some point and are interested in a different contract and ask for our assistance in using COMMBUYS. The relationship grows, the use of the COMMBUYS system grows, and the use of the contracts grows. We recognized that local governments can be a very good partner and that you should view them and treat them that way.
NASPO STAFF: Gary, you’ve had leadership roles multiple public agencies such as the Executive Office of Human Services, the Department of Personnel Administration, and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. Not only this, but you have significant private sector experience as well. What are some of the major lessons you’ve learned from these diverse experiences? How did they inform your current role as the Assistant Secretary for OSD?
GARY: I started in government and spent just shy of 20 years in government before I moved to the private sector. Going across a variety of different sets of services and different organizations gave me a broader view of how government works on a whole host of levels. I was the Deputy Director of Human Services and that gave me a finance lens. In the Personnel Administration Agency, I was the Chief Operating Officer, so that gave me exposure to just the overall human resources picture of an agency along with finance. In Administration and Finance, I had oversight authority of the seventeen agencies under that secretariat – so operations and ensuring that involved coordination up through the cabinet secretary – and that gave me a broader perspective of just overall management and operations of just a diverse set of senior state officials. Before that. I did a lot of stuff in the IT space, if you go back to my early NASPO days, things like “Buying Smart” with the Kennedy School and NASPO – which was about IT purchasing. So, I picked up a whole lot of experience with IT and those sorts of things in that journey.
NASPO STAFF: If I were a fly on the wall in your office, what would I hear and see every day? Walk me through a day in the life as an Assistant Secretary for Operational Services.
GARY: This is one of the harder questions because there is no typical day which is what makes this job so interesting and fun. There is always something new coming up every day. If you take it from a routine basis, as soon as I get up I peek at my emails from overnight to see what I might need to take on that I wasn’t planning to. Next, I look at my calendar to refresh my memory of what I have laid out for the day.
When I get to the office, the first thing I do is turn on some music, fire up the laptop and see what has happened during my commute and then I get started. The day normally goes by before I realized what happened. Administrative meetings, inter-departmental and internal meetings – my day is primarily meeting with people on different topics. Beyond procurement I focus on diversity, fleet, printing, contract and oversight and auditing responsibility, compliance issues for procurement because delegations, a data analytics team. So, there’s a lot of different stuff that occupies my time during the day
NASPO STAFF: As many other states, Massachusetts is committed to support small and diverse businesses participation in government contracting across the Commonwealth. How does OSD’s Supplier Diversity Office help the state meet these spending goals and increase diversity in public contracting?
GARY: Massachusetts has a pretty progressive program in that beyond the traditional diversity category that one thinks about we also include disability and LGBTQ in our certification programs. All of this is tied together by the way we do our procurement process. For example, any contract that has an estimated value of over 150,000 dollars, the contractor is required to create a supplier diversity plan that is targeted with a commitment to spending money with our certified contractors. It doesn’t have to be directly related to the specific contract they have with us. We did that intentionally to help facilitate business to business relationships with certified firms and contractors. Rather than say you must hire a certified business as a contractor for 5% of the value of this contract, what we ask for in the proposals is what percentage of the revenue from this contract will they spend with certified firms. So, for an IT contract, let’s say that IT company needs to have carpets replaced in their corporate office in Boston. They can go out and find a certified firm and have them provide them with the carpeting and installation services for the company. That way certified businesses can begin to forge a relationship with another company and get advantages from that certification that helps them to continue to grow their businesses.
NASPO STAFF: Name one accomplishment you are most proud of since you became the Assistant Secretary for Operational Services.
GARY: I think it’s really the ability to get an eProcurement system established and have it grow every year. We’re in the fifth year of operation with COMMBUYS and usage continues to grow in terms of solicitations, orders, information available in the tool and contracts available in the tool.
NASPO STAFF: What are your top three priorities for your office in the next 6 months?
GARY: The three that we are really targeting are contract management and improvement and the most important priority has two parts: a value exploitation strategy which then leads into updating our strategic plan which we will do in October. When I talk about value exploitation strategy – we provide a lot of value to a lot of different customers, but we don’t fully understand the strength of our value, the power of our value or the opportunity that our value creates. So, in the next 45 days we are going through an exercise where we are going to assess what our value is to our customers, whether or not we are using that value effectively, and where we think we are adding value but should check to make sure we are correct. Once all of that is compiled and done, we’ll use all of that work to help inform the strategic plan.
NASPO STAFF: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
GARY: I do a lot of cooking and a lot of cooking and wine. We pair wines with dinners, or we choose dinners to compliment a particular wine we want to try. I say cooking because we are not chefs, but we have about 150 different cookbooks at home. I also like outdoor things like gardening, and I like golfing, but I don’t seem to get there very often. The fact that I can be outside walking around taking in the scenery on grounds and lawns that look a thousand times better than mine ever would is just a nice relaxing afternoon or morning.
NASPO STAFF: What’s on your white board right now?
GARY: I have an electronic whiteboard for my leadership team and right now there are about sixteen items on it – some of them are near term and some of them are longer term. It keeps us focused and it keeps us all informed about the diversity of things that we do here and keeps us all informed about what’s going on in the agency for the leadership team.
NASPO STAFF: What is your favorite NASPO resource?
GARY: The people. It really is the people. It’s being able to talk and tap into the NASPO Network or however you effectively communicate with others to share and get information and a pulse of what’s going on from the procurement community overall. It’s the diversity of the people, the diversity of opinions, the diversity of the geography. It’s all of that.
NASPO STAFF: What was the first thing you bought with your very own money?
GARY: I started selling vegetables when I was nine years old on a roadside stand, and the money my sister and I made over the summer paid for half of our school clothes. My parents were very big on teaching us that we had responsibilities so we could grow up and take on and manage those responsibilities.
NASPO STAFF: If your office had a mascot what would it be and why?
GARY: As I think about that question, I run a small zoo filled with different mascots! I can’t put my finger on one mascot for the whole office. Personalities vary from group to group. My sourcing team has a very different personality from my compliance unit etc.
NASPO STAFF: Any words of wisdom, things you’d like to share with our Procurement Pulse blog community and procurement professionals around the country?
GARY: People need to be open and need to be flexible and adaptable. Things around us change so quickly and circumstances change quickly. If all you do is try to follow the process, we usually don’t get the best outcome.
You also have to be willing and able to lead. I’m more of a leader who tells people to take risk and isn’t afraid of change. Change is good and is to the benefit of you as an individual and the organization as a whole. I will back my staff when they take a risk and try to make a change.