NASPO Exchange 2019 was an eye-opening experience. Some of you may or may not know, I have only been a part of the NASPO team since January 2019, so this was not only my first Exchange, but my first NASPO conference. My coworkers have been trying to prepare me for what exactly to expect. I’ve heard a lot of, “It’s going to be like no other professional conference you’ve been to!” and “Girl, you better pack at least three pairs of shoes.” I quickly found out that all of the above were true, and then some. Keep reading to hear about my first Exchange!
A lot of times in the professional world, attending a conference isn’t something that someone would describe as exciting. It usually means sitting in some conference center, eating lukewarm meals under yellowed lighting with endless speakers and a crowded bathroom. That is not Exchange! Attendees include NASPO members and over 400 vendors and suppliers from across the country. The professionals attending Exchange are passionate about their careers and come to solve issues in the procurement profession, build relationships with suppliers, and strategically plan for the modernization of public procurement.
Modernizing public procurement is no small task. Complex laws and regulations and multiple stakeholders are just a few factors that go into conquering public procurement modernization. Exchange is the meeting point for both suppliers and buyers in public procurement. Imagine my surprise at seeing all of the different types of educational sessions presented. NASPO Exchange sessions aren’t one speaker with a PowerPoint at the front of the room—no! They’re engaging breakouts and forums meant to spark discussion about the best practices of public procurement and what both buyers and suppliers can do to better assist each other. Suppliers and state members also engage at Exchange in “One-on-One” sessions, or individual meetings between suppliers and state representatives from almost all 50 states’ central procurement offices. These One-on-Ones are where the real magic happens. Watching these conversations take place, I would compare to seeing market research in person, in real time. I know how unbelievable this sounds—but in this case, it’s not too good to be true.
Suppliers can sign-up to have twenty-minute meetings with different representatives from each participating state. During this time, suppliers make what they can offer known to procurement officers. Both procurement officers and suppliers can ask each other questions and lay the groundwork for productive relationships between the state and supplier. I was present in all of the One-on-One sessions, walking the floor and helping NASPO members and suppliers connect. During these twenty-minute sessions, I found myself listening to the conversations as I passed by the tables. Common themes included the state representatives educating suppliers about their states’ procurement process, suppliers explaining why their good or service would be the best value for tax payers, and both parties understanding each other a little better than before.
The three-day conference flew by so quickly. The different session types, networking opportunities and One-on-Ones scheduled into each day makes for the best kind of busy days. NASPO Exchange 2019 was an experience I will never forget, and my feet won’t either! Coming away from this conference has given me a new spark of passion for public procurement and the people who make it happen. If you have never made it to a NASPO Exchange conference, you are missing out. It’s a rarity in the professional world to meet so many people that are so enthusiastic and motivated. Exchange showed me that both public buyers and suppliers care about the ultimate end user—whether that be a government agency, or any member of the public. What are you waiting for? The location for Exchange 2020 was announced on the last day of the conference. Look out Nashville, Tennessee! The public procurement professionals are coming for you in 2020!