Author: Kate Miffitt

Working Backwards to Improve Software Procurement

Prior to starting in this role, I had a vague sense of what the software procurement process entailed. I mostly knew that it took a long time, and that vetting for accessibility was a critical challenge. When Cal State Innovate was tasked with exploring how to improve the software procurement process, I was surprised to learn just how much more complex, trouble-prone, and time-consuming the process is.

One scenario that illustrates some of the challenges goes something like this: a faculty member requests a piece of software for a course the following semester, typically through a department admin. The request is submitted, and it makes its way to multiple experts who evaluate it for accessibility, information security, student privacy, and vendor terms and conditions, each weighing if the risk associated with the software is within the tolerances acceptable to a particular institution. The process is under-resourced, opaque, and time-consuming. The requestor is frustrated because she has no visibility into the process and when it will be approved. The subject matter experts are overwhelmed by demand and challenges to get good information to weigh decisions. And vendors are frustrated by the different needs and demands from each partner institution and how long the process takes.

In a system the size of the Cal State, this process is happening on multiple campuses, even duplicated across colleges and departments. Finding any efficiencies in the process can have a huge impact. To the extent that we can normalize the process for procurement and share standards and information, particularly when it comes to accessibility, it can save tremendous time and effort in an under-resourced area.

To begin to tackle the challenge, we hosted a design thinking session with a small group of stakeholders from within the CSU and outside, with expertise in accessibility, security, and procurement, to develop a more detailed needs assessment and initial design concept to address this urgent opportunity. The meeting was facilitated by the Digital Transformation Hub using Amazon’s working backwards method.

Working Backwards at the Chancellor’s Office

Our goal was to provide a documented conceptual design for the development of a software procurement solution and companion business process. The discussion was rich, with each subject matter expert contributing to the complex understanding of how challenging this process is. We arrived at a narrative of a solution (the PRFAQ in the AWS process) and will work on a prototype as the next step.

Our hope is that it has the potential to lead to a more detailed design and development of a solution, that could be expanded to a collaboration of higher education institutions and organizations.