by Dr. Joseph Rowland
Director, Bidding Services
Public agencies seeking to procure goods and services priced above a certain threshold are typically required to put such items out for competitive bid. This process is meant to be fair, open and accessible to qualified contractors, vendors and suppliers. Ideally, the information flows easily from owner-agencies to the bidding community, with bidders aware of opportunities available and having ample time to prepare and submit a bid or proposal. Agencies use a variety of processes to distribute an RFP/RFI/RFQ/ITB, but there is a general workflow that all must follow.
While this process seems simple, it is actually quite complex and often becomes more complex over time as procurement rules and requirements change. Due to the competitive nature of bidding and the public funds involved, the process is carefully regulated and closely scrutinized. Procurement officers must remain abreast of ever-changing codes, rules and requirements meant to ensure a fair and secure process. Unfortunately, these laws and rules vary significantly from state to state, city to city, and even within divisions of an agency, making the process complicated for bidders and increasing the likelihood of mistakes.
The process is complicated by literally reams of paper per project. There are major inefficiencies associated with paper-based methods.
Inefficiencies for owner-agencies:
- Additional costs due to bidder error
- Project delays
- Paper management administrative costs
- Bid opening processes
Inefficiencies for bidders:
- Jobs lost due to avoidable errors
- Paper bidding costs
- Travel costs
Internet sealed bid submission debuted in the late 1990s and has extremely high levels of adoption in certain niche areas and virtually no adoption in others. As this technology has matured, more and more public agencies are taking notice and seeking out services to improve their solicitation management process. Upon closer inspection, it is easy to see why. All aspects of the paper bidding process are seamlessly transitioned to online functions (with many becoming irrelevant due to the adoption of technology), along with added checks for errors and omissions.
For both agencies and bidders, the technology involved in Internet bidding/online solicitation management is very approachable. Chances are, if an individual has ever made a purchase online, he/she has enough technical know-how to manage solicitations online and respond to them. There is typically no special equipment needed - just a computer with Internet access and a standard web browser. Live customer support provided by the service provider can be a benefit for the first few solicitations and provide bidders with just-in-time training to instill confidence that their bids are delivered securely and completely.
In short, the age-old method of accepting paper bids and proposals is being pushed aside for online solutions that reduce costs for both owner-agencies and bidders, eliminate avoidable errors associated with solicitation management, and save time in removing the handling of paper documents. All aspects of the paper bidding process are available electronically, so the transition is simple and easy and leads to significant gains in efficiency. Adoption by public agencies is spreading quickly with the many benefits in mind. Vendors/bidders are on board as well given the convenience of submitting secure, complete bids from their office or wherever they connect.