The last decade has seen an increase in the use of online procurement portals or e-procurement systems to manage competitive selection processes (e-Tendering), especially by large consumers of complex services.
From an evaluator and procurement perspective e-procurement and e-tenders makes it easier to rank suppliers based on data and dollars. However, there’s usually little facility for suppliers to inject positive differentiators or demonstrate value beyond price.
It tends to heavily advantage the ‘client’ who can analyse all potential providers on metrics you may not be privy to.
A debate on the suitability of using a data-driven approach (originally designed to compare products) to procure complex, repeat services (in a format that makes it difficult to demonstrate value meaningfully) is perhaps, for another day.
What is e-procurement or an e-tender?
Simply put it is procurement using the internet (with the ‘e’ standing for ‘electronic’).
Other related online systems an organisation may have in their ecosystem and ‘value chain’ include: e-Ordering, e-Contract management, e-Auctions, and e-Invoicing.
E-procurement tenders were first used by IBM in 2000 (and from what we have seen their system hasn’t moved on much since!), other e-procurement systems on the market include: Ariba, Complis, along with proprietary systems.
In this blog, ‘e-procurement’ or ‘e-tenders’ are distinct from uploading or submitting a completed bid developed offline through a tenders’ website (e.g. government tender portals where your final set of PDF, Word, or Excel files are submitted or ‘lodged’).
E-procurement systems in this context generally require you to submit your bid content (i.e. your answers) directly into ‘fields’ onscreen and other verification (i.e. upload supporting documents alongside various criteria – e.g. copies of your insurance certificates of currency).
Unfortunately, current e-procurement systems are not designed to enable humans to provide the information the client wants from suppliers. On the supplier side e-procurement systems also ALWAYS add extra hassle, confusion, complexity and time to a bid response.
If calling for tenders via an e-procurement system and the invitation list includes incumbent providers the client may not need a heap of detail about your capabilities and service history as they already ‘know’ all of their providers well. So, it’s a get down to brass tacks (i.e. show me the money) exercise.
A further observation is that e-procurement tends to be used by bigger global or multi-national organisations that are often headquartered outside Australia (e.g. USA, Singapore, London) and bids are ‘run’ from those locations, rather than managed truly locally.
Practical tips to help you respond to e-tenders
In the meantime, these practical tips will help ease the ‘stress’ of bidding in e-procurement systems.
# 1 Get the initial technical stuff sorted then log-in and look around
Once the bid ‘invitation’, ‘alert’ or ‘event’ email arrives obtain the log-in credentials (email and password) and get access to the system so you can take a look around.
Get familiar with the different components of the bid, if there any extra items to download that require responses and also how the portal behaves (i.e. if it is tetchy and likely to ‘crash’).
# 2 Getting to grips with the different e-tender question styles and their requirements
Once you’ve moved through the various sections / screens / views comprising the bid you’ll start to get a preliminary sense of the bid’s constituent parts and requirements.
There will usually be a MIX of question and response styles including questions that require:
- simple confirmation (multiple choice, drop down lists, yes / no style questions)
- text responses pasted in as text directly into the e-procurement system for longer more descriptive answers
- (or allow) an attachment to be uploaded as your response (perhaps also with some text pasted into the portal) – a combination style response.
# 3 Save angst – create a Word ‘replica’ of the e-tender to facilitate drafting, reviews & multiple contributors’ inputs and develop your draft offline
Given most bids will have multiple drafts and contributors prior to finalisation save angst and create a replica of the bid in a Word document or series of documents to facilitate easy editing. Most contributors will be comfortable with and familiar at working with Word documents.
Remember the online portal, or even your autogenerated Excel download doesn’t allow mark-up / track changes so it can be difficult to draft and keep a track of feedback and changes if using something like in Excel. Best to use a program or tool designed for Words such as, Microsoft Word to develop draft content.
# 4 None of your e-tender response goes into the e-procurement system until it is FINALISED & APPROVED
Do not be tempted to start uploading your e-tender responses into the portal until all your response text and other attachments are 100% settled / finalised / approved / NOMORECHANGESEVA status.
Just like trying to develop a draft you can review start to finish ‘online’ is impossible for humans (see point 3 above), it is a nightmare trying to make changes here and there to various responses once you’re midway through an upload. It is easy to lose track and get in a muddle.
Given pasting text into e-procurement portals tends to ‘de-format’ responses into ‘plain text’ you can lose track of what is finalised, what was edited, and so forth. My advice – just don’t.
# 5 It will take LONGER than you think to upload your e-tender (even if there are no technical glitches!)
For very complex e-tender uploads we recommend (over) allowing at least 36 – 48 hours to get your e-tender content into the e-procurement system. By over allowing time you can be calmly work through the process and also do any last minute ‘checking’ that invariably arises.
Usually e-procurement systems will let you ‘save’ sections and come back to them before you do a ‘final’ submit of the ‘complete’ bid.
#6 How to actually upload your e-tender in an online procurement portal
For really involved and complex e-tender uploads where you are contending with a mix of question styles and formats (partly directly into the system, mixture of files to upload) in our experience ‘best practice’ is to:
- Allow around ‘half’ a day to complete your upload (and commence at least 24 hours out from deadline – see point 5 above!)
- Find a quiet space – if you don’t have an office with a door – book a meeting room
- Have all your finished, final files saved and compiled together in a network folder, or on your local drive /desktop labelled according to the e-tender or some other logical way (ensure your file names conform to any e-tender requirements and are not excessively long)
- Have your IT team on standby for any last minute technical glitches that may arise internally
- Have contact details for both the e-procurement system support / e-tender contact – just in case you need to contact them if something goes awry
- Have a hardcopy of your Word replica handy to ‘tick off’ or strike through as you upload so you can keep track of where you are up to
- Have a ‘second set of eyes’ buddy sit with you quietly as you upload and save each item
- If you need to ‘quickly’ edit small things ‘live’ in the portal do so; if it’s a bigger change make sure your key decision maker is available to weigh in on quick queries (is it $4,000? or $40,0000?)
- Try to reflect any ‘big’ edits made live in the portal in your Word replica version and paste from there (or instate them later so you have a ‘complete’ copy of bid responses as submitted)
- Do a final scroll through each ‘screen’ to ensure you’ve not overlooked any attachments or transposed a response somewhere (generally there’ll be % complete tracker, or similar so you can quickly identify any gaps or missing responses).
- Often it will take a while for ‘confirmation’ emails to arrive, so take a screen shot of the ‘you have successfully submitted your bid’ screen so you can let your wider team know that it’s ‘in’.
- Keep your final Word replica as an internal reference copy of your bid (usually e-procurement system access will expire and it’s an easier way to see what you have submitted rather than a spreadsheet ‘dump’).
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Remember, nothing is so complex that it cannot be explained simply Albert Einstein was spot-on when he said “nothing is so complex that it cannot be explained simply”. Tenders, bids, proposals, and informal pitches for business are not times to show how clever and capable you are by using legalese (I’m looking at you lawyers), […]