The pain of public sector tendering

Times are hard. They are hard everywhere, and everyone is working harder for less money. I get that. New ways of working are needed. We must work smarter not harder – so why has it taken me 2 days to complete a Pre qualification Questionnaire for an Irish semi state company? I am not tendering to do a complicated job here – in fact I don’t even know what they want done. Truth be told, I don’t even know if I will have the resources and skills available within the company if (big if), and when I do pre qualify.

No The last 2 days have been spent preparing and assembling, in the precise order requested, basic information and declarations that allow us, as a company, compete for public sector work. I know we can compete for public sector work – we are already doing public sector contracts.

For those lucky enough not to have had to do this process, it goes a bit like this:

We are not restricted by any of the elements contained in Article 45 of EU Directive 2004/18/EC: –  so I’ll fill in your version of the declaration to confirm that, print it twice, and sign it, and include it as an annexe, and note in your document what annexe number it is, and make sure that I scan it, and file it so that I can include it in the 3 CD (CDs! it’s 2013) copies I have to provide you. Excellent, requirement number 1 completed – oh sorry no, I now need to find your checklist and work out a way of marking within Microsoft Word (proprietary format – not very inclusive, but we’ll let that drop for now) how to say Yes (or is it no check the wording for a double negative, would be foolish to fall at the first hurdle) in your Yes [ ]  No [ ] piece of text neatly formatted with the use of 300 spaces, formatting which goes completely mad when I add anything into the [ ] and knocks out all subsequent page breaks in the document.

Right, get a coffee – it’s going to be a long day.

Now repeat the above process for:

Conflict of interest, Insurance cover, Turnover, Company Background, Tax clearance Certificate, corporate safety statement, Quality manual – the list seems to go on for ever.

I get that to be eligible for public sector work you need these things – that is not the issue, the issue is that two weeks ago I filled in the exact same information in a slightly different format and order for your “colleagues” in a different department, and again last month, and 3 months ago and…

Last week I attended a very interesting presentation, organised by IT@Cork. Irelands new CIO, Bill McCluggage (@BillMcCluggage) was giving an insight into his first 100 days in office. He has a great vision for a reformed, digital first, public service – I have a pile of notes and hope to get a post written on the talk in the coming days. I came away energised and hopeful that this small country so adept at punching above it’s weight in so many arenas would lead a new digital public service revolution. When during the Q&A Bill was asked would his role include, in any way, making the tendering process easier, there was a collective groan of “please” from the audience.

To his credit Bill did say that he saw technology as being vitally important in the work being done by his colleagues in the Office of Public Procurement. That technology has to work both ways if there is to be both better engagement from the SME sector and lower prices for the public sector. SME’s of ireland let’s reinforce that point – the public procurement process needs to become more cost effective and efficient, not just for the public service but also for the bidders.

So here is a deal. I’m prepared  to create a web based system that returns a PDF declaration for  Article 45 and Conflict of interests, which the tenderer could then print and sign (forget digital signatures we are MILES away from that!). It won’t solve all the problems by any means but it might just knock a hour or so off the tender preparation marathon – it’s a big elephant, so take it one bite at a time. I am prepared to do this for free if the Office of Public Procurement will give the nod that the produced documents will be satisfactory for ALL tender cases. Why am I prepared to do it for free? Because it would take me longer to bid for the job (assuming it was ever advertised) than to do the work.

So we will dispatch the 3 trees and 3 CD’s and wait, not with bated breath, for the response. I really want to do work for this particular organisation, they are a major operator in Ireland,  down the road from the office, and the potential is there for a long and prosperous client supplier relationship, but boy oh boy the tendering process nearly made me walk away before even trying!

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