Spend matters – the key issues of complex procurement

Tender Evaluation – Commerce Decisions event highlights key issues

Peter Smith

I spoke recently at the Commerce Decisions (CD) “AWARD®” user group – AWARD® being their tender management and evaluation software. It’s designed to handle the biggest and most complex tendering situations, so it is no surprise that the UK Ministry of Defence are their biggest client. Other major users represented were the Highways Agency and the organisation that manages the schools’ building programme (Education Funding Agency).

But one interesting point was a number of much smaller spending organisations who also take advantage of AWARD® – mainly for the way it helps with process management and in providing clear audit trails around evaluation decisions. So the Northern Ireland Assembly have used it for some 40+ contracts, most of them below £1 million value.

Wendy Wates took over as MD earlier this year, having worked in the parent QinetiQ business for some years. She told the group that business is strong – by the beginning of next year there will be 35 staff, up from 25 at the beginning of 2013. Whilst the customer profile is heavily public sector, expansion is being driven by international opportunities, from Canada to Qatar and beyond.

The issues of compliance and regulation make it obvious why the public sector is a big user but it strikes me that any large business who wants to bring rigour to large and possibly contentious procurement processes should consider AWARD®. It certainly makes it far easier to explain to unsuccessful bidders why they lost a particular procurement exercise, for instance, and as we get more sensitive to issues such as the Bribery Act, that may take CD into broader market sectors. But there’s little real competition in this niche, so their potential globally with governments is probably the main engine of growth for the immediate future.

A highlight of the day was Peter Marshall’s session explaining the CD approach to tender evaluation, which introduces the concept of “confidence in the supplier’s ability to deliver”. He argues that this is really what interests us in many cases, rather than excessive tick lists around “conformance to specification”.

Marshall – who leads the CD consulting team – and I share a real interest in the slightly geeky but nonetheless really important issue of tender evaluation processes generally. Issues such as weighting of criteria, how to score price, and that sort of thing. Marshall showed how a set of independent decisions made without clear thinking can lead to a situation where a horribly expensive bid can win the tender – and certainly in the public sector, it is too late then to say “we didn’t mean that to happen, can we evaluate again with a different process please”?

So understanding what you’re doing and modelling in advance what your evaluation approach really means in terms of these and similar issues is critical. We’re hoping to have a lot more on this whole topic of evaluation in the not too distant future, with input from both of us as we try and define some clear best (or at least good) practice!

– See more of Peter’s articles at Spend Matters: https://spendmatters.com/