Re-Humanize The Bidding Process, Please
We just finished compiling a bid for a mid-sized town in the US, and it was large. Are you ready? Two hundred and sixty pages with six copies required and oh, by the way, is this 2017?
Seems to me we just used a tree to convey what we could have done just as effectively electronically. This got me to thinking; how much paper comes out of a tree anyway? (Hint; an “average” pine tree of 1,610 pounds, produces ~80,000 sheets of paper)
If this one bid were unique, there would be no reason to write this blog post. The thing is, it is not unique, and we respond to over a dozen per year along with 1-15 other bidders on those same contracts. Of these 1,080 (12x15x6) proposal instances of up to 260 pages, what amount of these ~280,800 pieces of paper are just being plain thrown away without being read? It states clearly in one of a hundred ways in almost every RFP that if errors are found, or directions within the RFQ are not closely followed, “we reserve the right” to kick your bid to the curb (not verbatim, but you get my point)."
Paper is just a “cover” problem however. There are far more systemic issues sustained by the traditional RFP process. Pulling together a bid addressing multiple moving parts is laborious, expensive and unless you are lucky enough to have been on the pre bid call (when questions can be addressed), incredibly opaque. Sometimes questions via email are allowed, but the whole process seems to be designed to keep the flow of information to a minimum. Often, by bid requirements, we will have neither met nor talked to a town where we will provide a solution. This is obviously a huge problem, as the majority of the time, the business that we are bidding on will be major projects for these municipalities, with nuances so discrete they were just plain omitted from the RFP. This creates a scenario where we — as a company who wants to improve the revenue generation and efficiency of an organization far before we get paid — are forced to run immensely counter to the best outcome for the municipality.
Of course, if we are lucky enough to be summoned to present as a finalist, we have an opportunity to animate the inanimate bound bid, and speak about a project that seems close to reality, rather than words on a page. We can answer questions about our solution, show it working in real time, and truly put our best foot forward. It is immensely difficult to reduce what your company can provide to a box containing six bound books and one lonely thumb drive.
What does this immensely high requirement of work, with relatively little guaranteed reward do? It awards bids to those that have the organizational capabilities to respond to them and expect nothing in return. It awards business to those that can pay desk dwellers to write 216 page adaptations of the words “yes sir” instead of looking into outdated processes and commenting “this is backwards. Let’s work together to find a better way”. This process is self-perpetuating, as when there is always a “yes sir” in the room, no one has to think too hard. You just have to say yes. This creates problems for firms like ours, because we loathe building short sighted solutions.
The NIGP Business Council (Institute for Public Procurement) wrote a wonderful white paper on why suppliers don’t respond to bids and it’s titled “We No Bid and I’ll Tell You Why”. The paper cites many reasons why suppliers don’t bid and a few of those reason really struck a nerve with me. One reason given, is that potential suppliers believe after reading the bid that it was “written with a specific supplier in mind”. In the parking enforcement software market, we have found this to be true in at least half of the bids we peruse. It takes such effort to pull together a large bid that the last thing you want is to lose before you’ve fought a good battle.
The next would be “the agency is not open to change”; there is no opportunity to educate them about new technologies and/or other possible solutions.” This one is painful. Often it will be that a municipality refuses to consider a Cloud solution or that it wants to continue to hand enter tickets or that it will continue to maintain several solutions due to historic data or lack of infrastructure. Now, by the time we read this, we have no opportunity to talk to the bidding agency regarding refining and or updating their processes; and sometimes to clarify complete misconceptions regarding technology. Probably the biggest issue is why would an agency contract with a supplier they have never met? Why would an agency not take the time to meet with a prospective supplier that believes they can successfully deliver? There is a lot of evolution that needs to occur, to take these processes into the 21st century.
Somewhere these processes will change, because I believe it is in the best interest of the requesting agency to receive as many responses as possible and the only way to accomplish this is to be as open and forthcoming with information as possible. Until that day, we will continue to tell anyone who will listen about the great strides that technology driven companies such as ours have made in storing and processing critical data. We will also seek out every bid, stay up really late and make mad dashes to FedEx before closing.