Saturday, November 27, 2010

Best Practices in Procurement for Hardship Postings

Don't know about you but I have chosen to spend this year's Day of the Turkey in Nairobi, sipping overpriced French wine at my temporary residence in Gigiri and passing time exchanging harmless anecdotes with other expats confirming local stereotypes about the people of Kenya, whom we know so well as we often change planes here and sometimes enjoy  lattes in the basement of Sarit center.

That, plus the combination of good weather and “affordable help”, which has kept Nairobi at the top of HRIs strategic locations for years.

In spite of what you may have speculated, my long silence of late has nothing to do with the fact that I was completely absorbed by cooking the books to demonstrate ever increased cost efficiency and accountability (that, frankly, is business as usual).

Nope, my silence has to do with the fact that HRIs V-sat connection in Moroni has failed and we had to procure a new one. Our back-up V-sat and the Thuraya data plan were both still functional, but, besides updating our Facebook profiles, we could not be seen making do with just that, as it would have compromised the urgency of the procurement process.

To procure the new V-sat, we first flew in Ian the consultant, a world-class IT expert based in Cape Town and a regional member of HRIs global network of experts maintaining our infrastructure. After three weeks in-depth assessment, his 63 pages report, reviewed and endorsed by HRIs IT department, put forward a surprising finding: the V-Sat is broken, we need a new one and while we are at it we should also “upgrade” our servers and firewall.

Given the urgency we immediately activated our global procurement department based in the New York admin center, a team of experts that have helped many a HRI office and affiliate to procure similar equipment in the past. Being 100% committed to procedure, they went ahead and collected quotes, a process that only took three weeks or so, at the end of which they could share three comprehensive quotes that were closest to the required specifications. 

Since neither I nor Nathan the Intern know anything about technology, we added a few extra days of pay to Ian in Cape-Town, who promptly suggested that the best company is actually not on the list, but a company he knows and trust in Cape-Town. He made some solid arguments so we went head with his recommendation and hired this company in Cape-Town, which may have been ever so slightly more expensive than the ones on the list, but Ian assured us they are small and nimble, which is always worth paying for on a market dominated by slow, monstrous, inefficient mega-companies.

Another argument in their favour was the fact that they actually import the equipment from a company based in Dubai (this one happened to be on the list of quotes), and ensure a “thorough quality check” before delivery – an important detail given my and Nathan’s technical hopelessness. Additional costs also include the transport and custom clearance for the equipment to Cape-Town, pre-assembly and transport to Moroni.

Of course there were additional “hidden” costs, but it’s all money well spent as these are the realities of procurement in Hardship Postings. And to be fair to them, the fact that they eventually shipped the V-sat with a wrongly sized dish was not their fault. As it could happen to anyone, Ian  forgot to compensate with dish size for difference in latitude when he “adapted” the assessment he has done for HRI in Sudan back in 2008. (“Adapted “ is an euphemism for “Ctrl+R” in MS Word (or “Find and Replace all ‘Sudan’ with ‘Comoros’).

At a reasonable additional cost, plus travel for “technicians”, the new dish arrived last week and,  as you see, we are back online. This sort of rapid reaction combined with cutting edge technology has kept us on the top for all these years.

And, in case you wonder how come, from the relative comforts of Gigiri, Nairobi, I am affected by these technical challenges in Moroni, well the answer is actually two answers:
  1. HRI takes security very seriously – we only connect through a VPN that runs behind the firewall in Moroni; and
  2. Don’t you just hate typing on your I-pad; 


  1. Its ctrl+h. We call it the rfa-o-tron 3000

  2. Come my way and I might have to dob you one.

  3. Dr. Kurtz, do you have any thoughts on the recent elimination of one of your biggest competitors for contracts to develop "toolkits" that fight poverty?