Author: Graham Allen
It is often said, “… working in public procurement is akin to being in a fish bowl with the cat watching.” This is an indication of the level of transparency and accountability required by public procurement professionals.
A key aspect to keeping the cat away is a strong foundational procurement document that holds up to scrutiny. The following article outlines nine points to consider as part of the procurement planning process which will help to reduce procurement risk, increase confidence in the procurement document and avoid a potential bid dispute.
Each procurement is technically a legal case waiting to happen. While that may be the alarmist’s view it supports the idea of preparing a strong procurement document to align with the public procurement principles of open, fair and transparent. Good preparation leads to a strong foundation. The main point is to devote sufficient time to the procurement planning stage (concept and development) to ensure all stakeholder considerations are addressed. This includes clients, current vendors and unsuccessful bidders of previous similar procurements.
While not a requirement of all procurements it sometimes makes sense to ask for a legal review of the procurement document prior to posting. A legal review can provide suggestions on how to improve the RFP by asking clarifying questions, checking for inconsistencies and reviewing for compliance with trade agreements, directives and other legislation.
3. Rated Criteria
The technical evaluation criteria needs to align clearly with the scope / performance requirements of the good / service being procured. The clearer the technical evaluation criteria the better the procurement outcome. This includes writing clear non-biased functional specifications or performance requirements. At times the tendency may be to include additional evaluation criteria that does not entirely align with the procurement requirements. There needs to be a difference between an evaluation ‘need’ and a ‘want’. Wants should be saved for an RFI (Request for Information) or a Market Sounding Exercise. A good test is to ask ‘what will I do with the evaluation response’ or ‘how will it improve the outcome’? If the answer is ‘I don’t know’ then it should be excluded from the evaluation.
4. Procurement Templates
A common pitfall is using a previous procurement document that may either contain errors or outdated information. Reusing the same document perpetuates the error(s) and may either lead to a number of addendums to correct the errors or a failed procurement which delays the procurement timeline. A best practice is to use current procurement document templates.
5. Time to Respond
Bidders should be provided with sufficient time to review the procurement document, ask questions and submit a bid. Stated posting times based on the procurement value are minimums. Posting for complex, unique or highly technical procurements should be increased to attract more bidders.
Procurement Evaluators should consist of subject matter experts (SMEs) with related technical expertise and generalists. The former are critical to the evaluation while generalists are able to provide a broader perspective such as whether a proposed implementation timeline is realistic. Many times, an awarded technical procurement is given to a generalist to implement and it is important that they understand the procurement requirements.
The evaluation needs to be completed as described in the procurement document. Undisclosed technical requirements in favour of the incumbent or a preferred bidder goes against being open, fair and transparent. It can lead to a bid dispute or the procurement award being overturned.
The project plan for high value, complex or critical operational procurement includes a comms plan to increase vendor interest in the procurement. Sometimes buyers may send the opportunity listing to existing vendors, previous bidders or even select organizations. The latter is a potential issue as it is viewed as being bias. In order to avoid this issue the opportunity listing advertising the procurement should be distributed to all registered suppliers and where possible also sent to industry organizations for posting on its website.
Most public procurements provide the opportunity for a vendor debriefing once the procurement has been awarded. The purpose is to give bidders specific, clear feedback on their bid submission. A debrief is the opportunity for the unsuccessful bidder to understand how to improve future bid submissions. It is neither the time nor the place to criticize the successful bidder but to focus exclusively on the bid and bid process. The unsuccessful bidder has an opportunity to provide constructive suggestions on the bid process and bid document.
The above nine points while not guaranteed to eliminate the risk of an unsuccessful procurement can assist in avoiding a bid dispute which can potentially delay or lead to the procurement being cancelled.
Once a procurement is awarded it moves to contract management whose primary functions are implementation, compliance and issue management. A well written contract is a key enabler of successful contract management as it clearly sets out the expectations of both parties. For a detailed explanation of the Federal Government’s contract management process see Chapter 8 – Contract management | CanadaBuys
Contract performance is governed by KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) which are included in the procurement document. The bidder is consenting to the KPIs when it submits its bid. Reviewing performance is a key aspect of regular contract review meetings. For new or operationally critical contracts a suggestion is to begin with monthly review meetings and then move to quarterly meetings as the business relationship matures. Meetings should be multi-lateral to include representatives from operations, supply chain and senior management.
Contract management cannot foresee all issues and therefore a defined resolution process is important. A recent example in longer term older contracts is inadequate price escalation clauses that are not responsive to the current inflationary environment.
A contract process for resolving unforeseen or exceptional circumstances without having to resort to legal action is a sign of a mature and respectful business relationship.
A well executed procurement combined with robust contract management is a key aspect of an effective procurement process.
Public Procurement in Canada
Certified procurement professionals play a pivotal role in the public procurement world. These experts are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the intricacies of procurement processes. Whether you’re looking to enhance your procurement acumen through procurement management courses or seeking valuable insights through procurement webinars, the landscape for public procurement offers many opportunities to explore.
Procurement services in Canada encompass a wide range of activities, all aimed at achieving the best value for taxpayer money. Procurement service providers work closely with public sector procurement consultants to streamline processes, maintain transparency, and uphold ethical standards. This collaborative effort ensures that the procurement landscape remains fair, competitive, and cost-effective.
Obtaining a procurement certification or a purchasing certificate can be a wise decision for those aspiring to excel in public procurement. These certifications validate your expertise and demonstrate your commitment to professionalism in the procurement arena. Certified procurement professionals are highly regarded for their ability to make informed decisions that benefit both the public and the government agencies they serve.
Public procurement in Canada is not just about acquiring goods and services; it’s about contributing to the well-being of communities and the country as a whole. The individuals in this field understand the significance of their roles and strive to uphold the highest standards of ethics and accountability.
Whether you’re a seasoned procurement professional or just starting your journey, the public procurement landscape offers a wealth of opportunities for growth and development. From procurement management courses to ongoing procurement webinars, resources are available to help you stay informed and up-to-date with the ever-evolving world of procurement.
Written by Graham Allen
Graham Allen is recently retired from Supply Ontario where he managed the entire procurement life cycle for a number of vendors and individual ministry procurements. His hobbies include white water canoeing, hiking, traveling and reading.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the Subject Matter Experts and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Procurement School.