COMMBUYS, Unpacked: An Overview


Audio version

COMMBUYS is the most important resource out there if you want to market and sell goods or services to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts––this is my opinion.  Now here are all the reasons why I hold fast to this opinion. COMMBUYS is the official procurement platform for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It's an online marketplace that facilitates procurement and purchasing for government agencies, municipalities, quasi-public agencies, public purchasing cooperatives, and educational institutions (e.g. public schools, charters, community colleges and state universities) in Massachusetts. COMMBUYS is designed to streamline the procurement process, improve transparency, and provide a centralized platform for vendors to bid on government contracts and opportunities.


I have researched several public procurement databases in the northeast.  Namely in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont. I've even had an intern who was training to become a business analyst conduct some deep analysis  of each procurement system.  Our assessment–– Massachusetts has the most complex procurement database in the northeast. This can be good or bad depending on how you choose to look at it. That said, here are my opinions on the pros and cons of COMMBUYS. 


Let’s start with the Pros:


  1. There's lots of information on how to use COMMBUYS. This information is available on-demand via  webcast or YouTube where you can get the basics of how to set up an account, conduct basic research within the marketplace, and access newly posted bids. To access this resource, scroll down to the middle of the page where you see the title, “Webcasts”. You will find titles like ”Basic COMMBUYS Navigation for the Seller Role”, “All Audiences: How to Search for Contracts in COMMBUYS”, and more. Click on the link to learn more.
  2. As mentioned before, there's a lot of information out there about COMMBUYS.  Some of it is available on-demand. This has its own benefits.  If you, however, need comprehensive information on how to navigate the marketplace so you understand the nuances of how the site works, I highly recommend attending a training session whether in person or online.  Yes, these sessions are free.  And the instructors are unbelievably helpful. You can access these live or online training sessions by navigating to the portion of the page entitled, “Classroom-based Courses”. The sessions I have derived the most value from as a new vendor were, “Connecting Your Business to the Commonwealth” and “COMMBUYS: Essentials for the Seller Role”. In order to sign up for a training session, you must click on the link that reads, “vendor schedule”.  It will pull up a document with the most recent training schedule. Links for registering for a session are usually embedded in this document.
  3. You can get individualized coaching through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office (SDO). My suggestion is to get on the office’s mailing list. From there head to one of the in-person training or networking events to meet the team. It’s worth the time investment.
  4. Buy the Way is a digital magazine compiled and managed by the Operational Services Division (OSD) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.You can find online training schedules, conferences, procurement schedules, and a ton of information if you take 30 minutes to review the publication. It’s a quarterly with a plethora of resources.  Other publications provided by the OSD include the Massachusetts Procurement Insights BlogMuni Updates, and OVM Quarterly.
  5. The final resource on the pros list is the OSD’s help desk for those times you really get stuck. The OSD’s Help Desk can be accessed between the hours of 8am and 5pm eastern standard time. They can also be reached via email between Monday and Friday. Here is the contact information for both modes of outreach for email.  1-888-627-8283 or 617-720-3197 to contact the OSD help line via telephone.


Now for the cons:

  1. There’s lots of information on COMMBUYS and it takes time and manpower to get a handle on it all. 
  2. COMMBUYS is hard to mine for historical data since there is no standardization around how contracts are entered into the system. 
  3. There’s a lot of terminology to learn.
  4. Requesting datasets from the system is a process on its own


Though the verdict is mixed when it comes to COMMBUYS, it's still the best tool out there when it comes to understanding how to navigate public contracting in Massachusetts. If you have the capacity, I highly recommend that you, at the least, attend a few training sessions. If you decide to move forward with using the marketplace, build into your business strategy how you plan to leverage COMMBUYS as a tool to diversify your revenue streams. 


Interested in learning more? Check out the “COMMBUYS, Key Terms to Understand” post found here. And feel free to leave your comments, insights or feedback below.


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