I’ve had enough ..
The call came through directly to us that we were invited to tender for supplying social media training services across the country for this state body (I won’t mention who it was for the moment).
Alarm bell number one..
Why wasn’t this put out to tender on the normal etender website I wondered?
I get quite suspicious when this happens – isn’t there a normal procedure for this?
Alarm bell number two..
We received the specification for this training and I was really surprised by how specific it was and by some of the language used. The objective was outlined clearly and it was up to the service providers to provide a solution. The thing is the ‘solution‘ was nearly fully mapped out in the specification.
One of the challenges for us was that the prescribed ‘solution’ would not achieve the required objectives.
We were well qualified to deliver a comprehensive solution for this organisation and we have huge relevant experience in the area so we went about writing a plan. This work took me the best part of a day to complete.
Alarm bell number three..
There was a very unusual item in the specification advising that the provider should budget “in a range of between €21,000 and €24,000“.
Why would a state organisation provide anyone tendering with a price guide? This was particularly surprising when the published ‘marking criteria‘ included cost.
Is it not up to each provider to assess the need and then provide a budget to fulfil this need?
Our proposal ..
We completed our proposal and included a more comprehensive training schedule than what was prescribed in their specification, clearly explaining why less training would not achieve their objectives.
I priced this using our normal rates and I was surprised that despite the heavier workload our budget came in a few thousand under the €21,000 – €24,000 price range as indicated.
We submitted our proposal and crossed our fingers – this was a really well thought out substantial and comprehensive evaluation and training plan.
Just like every proposal you work on, you end up investing your time and a little part of yourself in them and you become hopeful – on this proposal we were definitely hopeful.
Alarm bell number four – time to evacuate the building!!
We received our ‘Dear John‘ letter within days of submitting the proposal and we also received our score compared to the winning proposal based on the evaluation criteria.
On ‘methodology and fit for purpose‘ we scored 1,800 out of 3,000.
Surprise,surprise …the winning provider scored a full 3,000!!
Our methodology took their specification and went deeper and more comprehensive – I could feel the rage starting to build inside me.
A score of 1,800 means we barely know what we are doing ..
On ‘quality and balance of resources proposed‘ we scored 2,800 out of 3,500.
Surprise, surprise (once again!!)…the winning provider scored a full 3,500!!
Wow …they must be brilliant. Like those kids in school who get 100% out of 100% for everything.
The rage was starting to brim over … the cat, the dog, the laptop, the office door – nothing was safe (don’t worry I just cursed a lot!)
On ‘cost‘ we scored 3,500 out of 3,500..Jackpot!
Surprise, surprise …we beat the winning provider because our costs were below what was prescribed in the tender document. My accounting training was starting to pay off!
Rules and regulations..
I feel sorry for the government agencies as they are obliged to put things out to tender even when they might have a preferred provider. This ‘technically‘ means there is always 100% transparency, fairness and honesty and equal opportunity for everyone.
90% of the providers I have met have given up on this tender process because they believe it is a farce and a colossal waste of time and anything but fair.
In the commercial world we can work with whoever we want and when we want even if providers are more expensive – this makes business easy as we can just get on with things and not be forced into a painful ‘tender’ process every single time we want to get our business done.
However, these rules are in place and when these agencies are obliged to put things out to tender this commits anyone (fools like us) who is interested in the work to spend a lot of time working on proposals.
If the process is genuine we will play the game and put our best foot forward and let the best crew win.
When it is not and we are being used unfairly just so that the agency can ‘tick the box‘ on their technical obligations it is a much different manner.
What can we do??
This time I have had enough and I am complaining, freedom of information, the whole nine yards and I don’t care about the consequences.
The dilemma we all have is that ‘we don’t want to be seen as the troublemakers‘ and if we complain then we run the risk of not getting some crumbs from the table down the road.
We pay our taxes, which pays for these state agencies and if these rules are in place I won’t put up with anyone wasting our precious time just so they can tick a box and give the business to their favoured supplier.
I’ll let you know how this one goes…
A lot of people have contacted me since I published this post.
Many are irate and have given up on the tender system as they feel it is anything but. Some have criticised me and told me that we are naive to expect any of this to be a chance of winning business – ‘play the game‘ and get in there before things go to tender, which is how you win things I am told.
I desperately want to believe that this system can work fairly and that it is a valid way of winning business.
With that rationale I did officially complain and as expected I didn’t get very far..
There were explanations
Performance – the winning company apparently committed to seven times more activity than what was outlined in the brief. I can’t see how this would be necessary and I struggle to see how the teams would be free to attend that much training. We will keep a careful eye on that one.
Budget – they told me that it is their “normal practice” to give a budget guideline to be fair to everyone tendering. I don’t think I have seen this in a tender, at least not the ones we have entered.
It turns out another company who tendered for the work scored exactly the same as we did on the criteria except for the cost element. An incredible coincidence …what do you think?
They contacted me when they saw this post and have decided not to complain as they want to make sure that they do get those ‘crumbs from the table‘ the next time they might be going.
Maybe they are right!
Next steps .. lets see
Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion who offer Marketing, PR and Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland