Friday, May 25, 2018

A smart device app solution for merchant processing of government nutrition payments, such as WIC

A smart device app solution for merchant processing of government nutrition payments, such as WIC. 

Nova Dia Group, a Texas-based developer of mobile-payment solutions, has announced that its Mobile Market family of products has been certified for electronic WIC transactions by Conduent, a leading EBT transaction processor.

The upshot of this certification is that retailers that use merchant processor WorldPay for their point-of-sale transaction processing and use the Mobile Market products wIll now be able to support electronic WIC as a tender type.

Mobile Market+ Select is billed as an mPOS solution for merchants who want a smart device solution as well as the ability to accept both types of EBT tender: SNAP and WIC.

According to NDG, its Mobile Market products can now provide merchants with a single POS solution to process the following types of tender: WIC, SNAP, credit, loyalty. The company claims the Mobile Market solution is the only smart device app that can process WIC, SNAP, and credit across all state lines for multi-state merchants.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Great Program Badly in Need of Disruption


Disruption is a good thing in technology because it is how we grow and evolve. The last significant disruption in Federal food distribution was the Agriculture Department’s final rule mandating that all states adopt EBT for the distribution of Woman, Infants and Children benefits. This occurred in 2016. It is also worth noting that the Rule incorporates provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. HHFKA passed Congress 6 years prior to the Final Rule.

Prior to WIC EBT, the last significant disruption in EBT was the Congressional mandate that all state EBT systems be interoperable with each other. Congress issued this directive in 1999, 16 years after the dawn of EBT technology

The use of electronic benefits transfer for the distribution of government benefits dates back to 1983. EBT has been one of the most successful public-private partnerships in American government history. But it is clearly an industry that at times rests on its laurels.

In February of 2018 the Agriculture Department which manages the SNAP program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program, announced plans to convert a portion of each eligible household’s monthly benefit to what it dubbed a America’s Harvest Box pending the approval of Congress. The box would contain shelf-stable food staples.

The Harvest Box idea was previewed in President Trump’s 2019 budget message to Congress in February 2018. It is part of the Administration’s plan to cut federal SNAP spending by 200 billion dollars or 30 percent. 

Opposition to the plan was emotional, overwrought and largely along party lines.

In a statement Eloise Anderson, the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department on children and Families and Chair of the Secretaries’ Innovation Group comprised of 22 state human services and workforce leaders from 22 states covering 52 percent of the country, wrote that she likes the idea that the Harvest Box proposal helps assure that recipient families…have a ready supply of healthy and nutritious food.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, according to a published report, admitted that the Harvest Box idea surprised members of Congress but also said that Department staff had consulted with experts while formulating the concept. He also reportedly called the plan a work in progress as the Department starts taking public comment.

According to one report, Secretary Perdue is looking for Congressional permission to develop a Harvest Box pilot program.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

3 Simple Steps for Crafting a Winning Pitch for Government Business

3 Simple Steps for Crafting a Winning Pitch  for Government Business

Know Your Customer. In government sales, there are several parties you will have to deal with. They are the buyers who work for the procurement agency,  the program officials who will actually manage how your produce or service will be used, the government employees who will actually put your produce or service into play. In the government sales cycle, the buyers are the people you will have to negotiate with. They are the gatekeepers. Regardless of the merits of your offering, unless you please the buyer, you won’t get to the program official who will be responsible for the use of your offering. Once you are tendered a contract, the program manager will be responsible for the use of your offering. Screw up at this point and you’re out, Tom. The program officials rely for counsel on the field employees who will be responsible for the deployment of your offering.

Plan in Advance. Understand that a government customer can differ from a commercial customer. A commercial customer is answerable to the company’s shareholders. This is the dynamic that ultimately drives all decisions. A government customer answered ultimately to the taxpayers. So, government customers generally choose the “lowest, best offer” Understanding the differences between the two customers will allow you to battle plan a successful proposal to a government agency. Whatever you do, don’t try to get by on the cheap by recycling an old prop to a commercial customer. We serve both commercial and government customers. We know the differences and why a commercial proposal won’t work with a government prospect.

Tailor your proposal to a government prospect. Your prop should always focus on why your offering is the “lowest, best” offer in the solicitation. Understanding the differences between the commercial and government customers, make the proposal more about the government prospect and less about your company. Avoid chest-thumping praise of your own offering. Be aware of what your prospect’s issues are and in your proposal very concisely focus on how your offering solves those issues. Make the case by citing other government customers that have benefitted by your offering, if you have any.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The electronic message that drives EBT transactions is about to change

EBT electronic transaction messaging to get a rework

The Retail Payments Subcommittee of electronic financial message standards group X9 is soon to begin revising the financial transaction message for EBT.

Standardization of the electronic processing of SNAP (nee Food Stamps) purchase transactions “provides cost efficiency, ease on conversion, data and reporting consistency for the SNAP program.

Parties affected by the change include The Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for managing the SNAP program, state and territorial agencies that manage SNAP on a local level, the handful of companies that process SNAP electronic transactions, third-party processors of SNAP transactions, software developers, point-of-sale terminal manufactures, authorized food retailers that vend the food which SNAP EBT cardholders purchase, as well as software developers who build the retail POS systems.

The subcommittee is seeking subject-matter experts among these stakeholder groups who would be interested in participating in the rewrite of the SNAP EBT message.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Yet another state goes live with EBT payment technology


Yet another state goes live with EBT payment technology for the WIC program


In April of 2018 the State of Arkansas began converting its Woman, Infants and Children nutrition program away from paper benefits checks in favor of electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, technology. 

This is a project that Chaddsford Planning work on in the planning phase, assisting the EBT planning contractor, Burger Carroll and Associates. It is gratifying to see the State and its EBT processing contractor, Solutran, get the EBT system off the ground.

EBT is more efficient for the state, beneficiaries, and food retailers  who vend the food to the EBT cardholders. Shopping with a pile of WIC checks is inefficient and stigmatizing for program beneficiaries. Retailers incur the labor and banking costs to handle and account for thousands of WiIC checks each month. States also incur the costs of printing, issuing and accounting for the checks. Under EBT these check processing costs go away for taxpayers.

To support its WIC beneficiaries, Arkansas has chosen online “smart card” EBT technology. When states migrate their WIC benefit distribution from paper checks to EBT they can choose either of two technologies: online EBT (similar to a banking debit card) or offline EBT (the beneficiary cards carry a microcomputer chip which holds the large amount of data required for the WIC program) The microcomputer chip may also be more secure than the magnetic strip on an offline card.

There are advantages and drawbacks to each technology. However, experience has shown that both EBT technologies are far superior to the traditional benefit distribution method of printing, distributing, negotiating, and settling thousands of checks every month.

Congress has mandated that by 2020 all states must replace their WIC check operations with an EBT system. As of April 2018, about half of all states, territories, and tribal authorities, have, like Arkansas,  already complied with the Congressional mandate. Another handful are in the process of implementing EBT. Several others are in the process of rolling out or piloting a WIC EBT system. A few are still planning for EBT. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The recently released Farm Bill mandates modernization of the Electronic Benefits Transfer system used to distributed SNAP (nee food stamps) benefits to eligible households


Congress’ recently released Farm Bill mandates modernization of the  Electronic-Benefits Transfer system, the specialized debit-card technology by which SNAP (nee Food-Stamp) benefits are transacted by cardholders. 


With over 40 million cardholders using their EBT cards an average of10 times per months, EBT is one of the largest stand-alone electronic-payment systems in the US.
  
Congress has identified several specific targets for EBT technology modernization. These are.

1) Adding the ability for SNAP recipients to access their benefits through mobile technology

2) Online acceptance of EBT

3) A national gateway to facilitate the use of benefits beyond the state that issued them to a particular recipient.

4) Addressing access to state EBT systems.

5) Incentivizing the modernization of EBT technology.

The bill also addresses public-private partnerships for improving EBT technology. 

It is important to note that EBT leaders in the private, Federal, and state sectors have for some time already been working on implementing these improvements.

It is also worth noting that the bill mandates certain back office changes to improve SNAP integrity. These include procedures for the replacement of EBT cards, data reporting, tolerance levels for payment errors, state performance indicators. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Marketing Technology to Government

Marketing Technology to Government

I have seen a number of sellers and marketers crash and burn trying to market their technology products to government agencies. Often, the problem is a failure on the part of the seller or marketer to realize quickly enough that he or she and the agency rep are or should be on the same side of the table.

All too often, the seller or the marketer will approach the agency rep antagonistically because of pricing. The seller’s job is to sell his company’s products or services at the greatest possible margin. The agency’s rep’s job is to secure the seller’s wares at the best possible value. This value is a combination of price and technology.

So, if your technology is not the freshest on the market don’t be surprised if the buyer asked you to take a haircut as the buyer is willing to trade a newer technological iteration for some cost savings.

Once you both move past the money issues both parties should be working toward the same goal, a sale.

Both sides need to recognize that the agency has a problem to solve and that the seller may very well have the solution to that problem. Since the seller is proposing the solution, it is incumbent on him or her to avoid a stand-off or shouting match in order to get the deal done. Prideful reluctance to give in to the buyer should not stand in the way of a good deal.

The technical aspects of the produce being sold and bought may present another barrier since the agency rep may not be versed in the nuances of the product. Similarly, the seller may not be familiar with how government agencies operate and how decisions are made.

If a seller approached the sale as if the agency’s problem is his own and recognizes that he and his counterpart are playing on the same team to solve the same problem, the sale will be made at a price that is fair to both teammates.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Getting Started Contracting with Government

Getting Started Contracting with Government 

By one estimate, there are 80,000 government agencies, federal, state and local, that purchase a variety of goods and services from the private sector. The aggregate value of these purchases is in the billions of dollars.

Your first move in the government sector should be to settle on exactly which of your many goods or services you plan on selling to government. At this point, you should become familiar with the NIGP, or the National Institute of Government Purchasing index. This is a listing of all the goods and services that government agencies typically buy. This will be your first indication if there is a government market for your company’s offering. You should also visit the website of any agency to which you wish to sell and click on the procurement tab to find what things that particular agency buys. This will tell you if that potential buyer needs your company’s offering.

You also need to determine where you wish to sell: nationally, regionally, only in the state in which your company is domiciled, or locally. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these. for example, selling nationally opens up a huge market for you but could entail a great deal of travel the expense that will cut into your margin. If your company doesn't already have regional operations you could actually realize more profit selling locally. 

You next should locate specific bidding opportunities. 

There are several ways to go about this. One way is to contract with an aggregator. This is a company that will report to you periodically on which agencies have issued tenders for the goods or services that your company supplies. The drawback to this approach is expense. These reports are costly and most bidding companies will not have the bandwidth to respond to more that a fraction of the opportunities in the report. In addition, much of the information is repeated from report to report to report. So, you will be paying repeatedly for the same data and you will be paying for information that your can’t use or which is stale. 

An alternative to an aggregation service is to retain a consultant. Make sure your consultant has hand-on experience selling to government not just other contractors. Experience selling in your vertical would be a bonus. This is a much more personal approach than using an aggregator. In the interest of full discloser, Chaddsford Planning provides this service.

A  third approach, if you have the time and/or resources is to go it alone and contact thousands of government agencies yourself to determine if they purchase what you are selling and then to continue dialing for dollars until you find the right person who has purchasing authority and can buy from you.

The next step is to identify the requirement of the job. in order to for your potential customer to do business with you you will be required to submit a formal written proposal that accomplishes three things. 1) specifies exactly what you are offering, 2) specifies exactly what you expect in return, 3) shows precisely how your offer solves the agency’s problem.

It is a lot of work, but there is a lot of reward.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Public Speaking Can Be a Career Builder or a Career Breaker

Public Speaking Can Be a Career Builder or a Career Breaker

If you follow The Lobster I am betting that your interest in career development will make public speaking a career builder for you.

Unfortunately, if you are unprepared and try to wing it, a speaking opportunity could well be a career breaker.

When I went off to Ohio’s Defiance College I was a tongue-tied 18-year old. The few ideas I was able to articulate were delivered in a thick East Coast brogue and cadence which left my audiences wondering what they had just heard.

That was until I fortuitously was scheduled into Prof. Robert Pearce’s Speech class.  The dean of students must have caught my act at some point and placed me there. Professor Pearce had what I thought was the coolest job. Companies would hire him to give speeches of behalf of executives who could not clearly articulate the company’s message despite their business acumen.

Company communications flacks would give him the content and overall message which he would deliver in a beautifully crafted speech. Being an adjunct professor for inarticulate knuckleheads like me seemed to me like slumming it.

After four undergraduate years and a graduate degree from one of the country’s most prestigious universities and a long career in business, I tell everyone that Prof. Pearce’s speech class was the biggest career builder I had.

Not only did I have one career, I had several, all involving public speaking. For several years I was high school teacher, bringing the finer points of Hamlet to 16, 17, and 18 year olds.

From there I became a broadcaster, speaking to unseen audiences. My first boss in broadcasting and my business mentor was Mr. Fred Palmer, the owner of WATH in Athens, Ohio. Not exactly a 50,000 watt flamethrower. Mr. Palmer was my Prof. Higgins who taught me how to speak properly and connect to an audience.

After I left Mr. Palmer I continued in the broadcasting industry.

I next parlayed my broadcasting experience into a long career in marketing and PR. This career has given me numerous speaking opportunities which have raised my industry profile. This has brought in more and more new clients.

I meet many business colleague who assiduously avoid opportunities to get up in front of a room of several hundred decision-makers and influencers. This I believe is one of the biggest mistakes a businessperson can make.

If you receive an unexpected invitation to speak at a conference or other function, follow these 3 steps.

1) be positive and thank the person who rendered the invitation.
2) ensure that you know the audience.
3) quickly go online to make sure that your knowledge of the topic is up-to-date.

Invitations to speak can sometimes appear from nowhere. In a business setting, always be mentally prepared to speak if asked. One good way to do this is to evaluate other speakers for what they seem to do correctly or wrongly. As they speak notice how the audience responds to them. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Chaddsford Planning Associates in the News

We recently publicized our participation in the 20th annual EBT-the Next Generation conference especially Front Page Focus which centered on the positive impact of the SNAP program on disaster recovery in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

As a result, our press release garnered 6500 unique views including 1600 in the first hour. 30 viewers clicked over to this website for more information. 13 percent of the viewers  were referrals from over sites.

2000 of the interested viewers were from Virginia and 1600 were from California. 1600 views originated in Ireland. 

The most social media mentions about Chaddsford Planning came from Illinois and Pennsylvania. Nearly 80 percent of the social media mentions were on Twitter.


The social mentions potentially reached 24,000 people in the first week after release. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Contracting to Managing the Farmers Market EBT Equipment Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has posted a Request for Information to determine the feasibility of a small business set-aside to provide Farmers Market Support Services on behalf of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

It is the intention of the Food and Nutrition Service of USDA to issue a procurement for the subject requirement in Fiscal Year 2018. The Service is seeking statements of capability from interested parties who might potentially submit an offer to provide the subject requirement.

This will be a small-business set-aside for a businesses that demonstrate the experience and staffing to perform the subject requirement as stated in its capability statement.

The Government is seeking responses from qualified small businesses able to providing "performance-based contractual support for the Electronic Benefit Transfer Equipment Program".

The contractor will be responsible for administering the distribution of EBT Electronic-Payment terminals and services to Farmers Markets and farmers who sell directly to the public and who are authorized to be reimbursed by USDA for the cost of eligible food covered by the SNAP (Nee Food Stamp) program.

The Request for Information number is P-18-011. Interested vendors can find the RFI through the federal business opportunities website, https.fbo.gov, by searching for this number.

The NAICS number for this procurement is 522320, financial transaction processing. The small business threshold is 38.5 million dollars.

There is a very specific set of requirements which you are advised to read before submitting an offer.

If you are interested in this opportunity, questions are due to the agency by Friday, December 1. Email your questions to Tset.wong@fns.usda.gov with a copy to matthew.horn@fns.usda.gov

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Negotiating Government Contracts

Negotiating Government Contracts

The following advice is based of 30 years of experience negotiating contracts with government agencies. The basic rule that many contractors forget is that contractors and their client agencies are on the same side of the table. The agency is not the adversary. The adversary on the other side of the table is the status quo. The agency has a problem to solve and you presumable have the solution. Or what you believe is the solution.

Sure, both the contractor and the agency want to cut a deal that best benefits it. But government contracting is not a zero-sum game. Neither should want to irreparably harm a mutually beneficial relationship. If the agency overpays for the solution the contract could be voided and the agency could go back out to bid. If the negotiations result in a contract that fails to cover your costs and a reasonable profit given what other buyers are paying for the same product or service in the same market, you will probably walk away from the opportunity and welcome a second bite at the apple in a rebid.

So, we recommend that contractors avoid adversarial posturing and accept the fact that both they and their client agency are on the same side of the negotiating table and that the adversary is not the agency but the status quo, which contractor and agency want to vanquish.

One frustrating aspect of government contracting, of which many would-be contractors may not be aware, is the bifurcation between the contracting agency and the purchasing agency. In most state governments the purchasing agency is responsible for procuring the goods and services that the other departments require in order to operate.

So the agency that will use your product or service won’t be the agency with which you will negotiate.

Another fact of which would-be contractors should be aware is that government contracts are of a specified durations such as 1, 3, or 5 years. Short durations protect the agency in the event that technological changes render your solution obsolete during the term of your contract.

So, if the initial term of the contract is up, be ready with Rev. 2 of your offering.