Tortured by Tenders? Whats the problem?

Many Australian organizations, both Government and Private Enterprise acquire IT technology through a tender process.

No not that kind of tender….

Love Me Tenders

More like this kind of tender (anyone want a bridge shaped like a coat-hanger?).

tender-e-plan-5

The process of creating and responding to a tender actually involves what I call the three tortures:

  • The torture of creating the tender request document.   I have never met a client who enjoys the creation process.   Many resort to paying third parties to create them
  • The torture of responding to a tender.  I have never met a business partner or vendor who enjoys responding to one!
  • Then the final torture:  The torture of reading all those tender responses and selecting the winning one.   I have never personally experienced this torture but I can imagine how hard it must be reading all those vendor weasel words.

500px-Weasel_words.svg

I see five fundamental issues around tenders (well in Australia anyway).

1)  The lawyers are writing most of them (and it’s not helping one bit)

Saul

Most tender requests contain a huge amount of legal documentation.   Often less than 10% of all the words in the published documentation relates to technical or (more importantly) business requirements.
Quite seriously they often include 70-100 pages of legalese and 5-10 pages of truly useful back story as to why this tender has been released at all.
I am certain that every tender response needs to be stated inside a legal framework of responsibilities, but I have not seen any evidence that all of this legalese has prevented failed projects or bad solutions.

2)  Repetition in questions

I cannot over state how bad this situation is.   I have repeatedly seen tender documents that ask the same questions again and again and again (and again).

Even worse I see questions that are clearly not finished or questions that are missing huge amounts of obvious (and necessary) subtext or back story.  I have seen tenders where the quantity of question/answer documents created after the tender was published (as vendor questions are responded to) exceeded the quantity of technical detail provided in the initial documentation.  Quite frankly that’s just astonishing (in a bad way).

It seems that different teams each contribute to the total documentation and the person who compiles and publishes the document has no inkling just how much repetition has occurred in the process.   I don’t blame the authors – I blame the project manager who compiles their contributions and the timelines under which these tender documents are created.   Indeed my gut feel is that management simply don’t give the authors anywhere near enough time or resources to do a good job.

3)  Vendor bias

When you see a tender that asks for SRDF (as opposed to sync or async replication) you know there is a serious (EMC focused) bias.   Asking for Semi-Synch replication is nearly as bad (that marks it as a Netapp focused tender).
Many tenders are written with a specific outcome in mind, but all this leads to is weasel words, as all the other responders attempt to use their hammers to batter their products into the shape needed to answer the questions.

The issue is that the tender should really be about business outcomes enabled by IT, not IT solutions that someone thinks will lead to the best IT outcomes (and by implication, maybe, hopefully, the right business outcomes).

The idea of accepting that truly differentiated vendors will help you achieve better outcomes with differentiated technology simply doesn’t fit a straight question and answer response document.   The Q&A method only suits the accountants trying to score the responses.   But don’t worry all of that is handled next….

4)  No connection between technical requirements and financial reality

I have no issue with every organisation trying to get the best value for their money and the best possible outcomes for every major technical rework.
But if you want 2 Petabytes of Tier1 disk and your budget is $100K you are not going to get it.
Frankly most IT departments know full well what their maximum budget is, but if all but one tender response gets knocked back within 1 hour of submission because they all missed an unstated financial cut off, you have to question the efficacy of the whole process.   Invariably at least one vendor with the right contacts knows the ‘win price’. Everyone else was drifting off in the clouds.

Throw me a frickin bone

5)  May final gripe:   nowhere near enough lead time to get the responses written.   I routinely see tenders talked about for months and then released with less than 3 weeks to create the responses.  This tends to reflect the overall problem with timing…. everyone is simply too busy, but the end result is rushed bids.

So do you have a better perspective on what’s going on?  Feel free to share!

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About Anthony Vandewerdt

I am an IT Professional who lives and works in Melbourne Australia. This blog is totally my own work. It does not represent the views of any corporation. Constructive and useful comments are very very welcome.
This entry was posted in advice, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Tortured by Tenders? Whats the problem?

  1. Suad says:

    You are entirely missing the torture, after handover, when they try to do something not described in the Tender or after a scope change.

  2. penguinpunk says:

    You’re absolutely right. I’ve been on both sides and it’s positively awful. I still don’t understand why they put such tight timeframes on responses. And procurement generally drive the process but don’t always understand the responses they’re reading.

  3. Another torture point is the response as to why a tender was unsuccessful. A weasel word opportunity if ever there was one.

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