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Procurement Perspectives: Valuable tips to include when specifying criteria

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: Valuable tips to include when specifying criteria

When looking at the top 10 tips to include in municipal contracts, I would suggest you use mandatory criteria carefully.

For example, mandatory criteria should be specific, but also understand that specifications should encourage competition in meeting the municipality’s needs and should not be restrictive.

Specifications should be generic (i.e., not tied to any particular product or manufacturer). Few products or features are so different from others that there are no substitutes available.

Minor differences between products should not exclude suppliers from a competition. Restrictive specifications are contrary to the economic interests of the municipality and should be avoided.

Specifications must be clearly written and must be sufficiently flexible to allow competing offers.

If specifications are essentially tied to one supplier’s product line, then the amount of competition will be slight. I have always said that contract language must be clear and specific. Every vague clause in a contract adds an element of uncertainty. Contractors adjust for uncertainty by increasing price, because uncertainty equals risk.

Specifications must not be anachronistic, containing references to obsolete or otherwise out of date technology or design. The buyer responsible for the tender or RFP should confirm the availability of the specified features before the tender or RFP notice is issued.

Minimum specifications should be truly minimum. They should rule out only those products that would not perform properly or be suitable for the use intended without the features concerned; reliability to meet special usage requirements is one such concern.

Specifications should not impose a “glass ceiling.”

Suppliers should be allowed to quote for a higher specification than the minimum standard, provided it is understood that by doing so they take the risk that their price may not be competitive.

Extended warranties for parts provided by a third-party manufacturer (i.e., someone other than the immediate supplier) are not realistic and lead to higher prices. Including such a requirement in the specifications simply results in an increase in price.

If the municipality wishes to obtain a service contract, it is generally cheaper to do so in a separate contract with a supplier who is in the business of providing that kind of service.

Mandatory criteria should be clearly identified. Again, using consultancy by way of illustration, it is unfair to prospective suppliers to state in the specifications that “bilingualism is desirable,” if in fact no contract award will be made unless the consultant can offer bilingual services.

Along the same lines, mandatory criteria should be set out clearly in the document and ideally should be located in one part of the document. If not so placed, then proper cross-references should be provided from some clearly identified summary section, so that suppliers can determine quickly whether they are eligible for the contract.

Make clear in the documentation that no contract will be awarded unless the municipality is satisfied that the supplier can do the job to a satisfactory level.

Direct suppliers not to provide information not relevant to the evaluation process.

Wading through a nine-inch-thick proposal is difficult enough without a lot of irrelevant material.

Ideally, vendors should be required to provide the same information in a consistent format. Where lengthy proposals are expected, there should be a summative document, which indicates where each of the specifications is dealt with in the proposal.

Aside from information going to qualification and establishing that its goods and services meet the minimum standards that must be satisfied before any contract award will be made, bidders or proponents should be told not to provide any additional information.

Since the specifications will eventually have to be sold to the market, municipalities should undertake more consultation with suppliers.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at swbauld@purchasingci.com. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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