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Audit Your Way to the Top: How Seattle IT Maximized WMBE Spending

City of Seattle and other government agency representatives meeting with prospective vendors at the Reverse Vendor Trade Show in November 2023.

Seattle is the recipient of a $1 million Bloomberg Procurement Transformation Grant, a partnership between the Department of Finance and Administrative Services and the Mayor’s Innovation and Performance Team, with technical assistance from the Harvard Government Performance Lab. As part of our goal of elevating procurement as a strategic function of City government, the City is highlighting a multi-part series of stories that demonstrate Citywide promising practices that can better support our WMBEs.

The City of Seattle has a long legislative track record supporting equity in contracting and creating intentional efforts to ensure that women and minority-owned business enterprises (WMBEs) receive their fair share of public contracts. A City Council ordinance established this goal in 2004, and multiple mayors have reaffirmed it since via executive order.

Setting an intention is one thing, following through is another; the City of Seattle aims and continues to do the latter. Seattle annually exceeds its WMBE utilization goals and closely tracks each department’s WMBE spend to ensure we’re on target to meet goals.

Among the departments leading the way is Seattle Information Technology Department (Seattle IT). Over the last three years, Seattle IT has spent both more overall dollars ($116 million) and a higher percentage of its annual procurement budget (average 37%) on WMBE vendors than any other City department. 

In addition, in 2023, Seattle IT reached 52% WMBE spend in purchasing dollars after steadily ratcheting up year over year, starting at 22% in 2017.

A line chart showing Seattle IT WMBE spend as % of total purchasing spending. The chart shows the percentage increasing steadily each year from 22% in 2017 to 52% in 2023.
With the help of an auditing strategy, Seattle IT has steadily increased the percentage of dollars it spends with WMBE vendors for the purchase of goods and non-professional services.

So how did Seattle IT, which procures around $100 million worth of goods, services, and consulting annually, do it? They started by consulting the data.

“We went by spend,” says Jeremy Doane, Seattle IT’s Procurement Manager, who led an internal effort that began six years ago. “We took the top 12 categories of things we buy to see if we can locate a WMBE seller or reseller.”

The process can be arduous. It entails conducting market research and then asking an existing vendor if they can ensure that dollars are ultimately spent on a WMBE business. With many of its vendors, Seattle IT is a big customer, which motivates them to go the extra mile.

Case in point: HP, a major provider of hardware. Few of its authorized resellers for laptops and monitors were WMBEs. With help from the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which oversees the City’s WMBE program and its purchasing and contracting services, Seattle IT asked HP to find and add WMBE vendors to its roster. Not wanting to lose Seattle IT’s business, the Fortune 500 company found a solution.

“They had to make it work, and they did,” said Doane.

Enterprise software and hardware are dominated by large technology companies, few, if any, of which are WMBE-owned. For example, Seattle IT spends $10 million annually with Oracle and Microsoft alone.

But tech giants work with vast networks of suppliers and resellers, and there are opportunities to diversify spending at all levels, from the smallest contracts to the largest. Privately-owned SHI International Corp, for example, provides everything from cybersecurity to data centers to body cameras for public sector, corporate, and academic customers, including Seattle IT. The $14 billion company works with over 12,000 vendors. As the largest WMBE in the US, SHI is particularly attuned to the impact of intentional WMBE spend strategies. There is plenty of opportunity to scale this effort and for the City as a whole to work with smaller and medium-sized firms by doing similar internal data audits.

“The buying power of a city the size of Seattle can help influence private industry to really consider companies that maybe they would not have looked at to provide a product or service,” says Ed McNamara, SHI’s Director of Communications and Marketing. “That’s how they can make a difference in the marketplace.”

Learn more about the Procurement Transformation project, and stay up to date by signing up for the Innovation & Performance newsletter and following @seattlefas on X. You can follow Seattle IT on X/Twitter @SeattleITDept or check out the Tech Talk blog.  

Read more stories about promising practices in Seattle’s work to make City contracting more efficient, results-driven, equitable, and strategic: