When talking to contractors there are numerous areas of concern in relation to RFPs, many of which are shared with tenders and other forms of competitive procurement. Others (particularly the method of evaluation) are either unique to RFP procurement or of a greater order of magnitude in relation to an RFP.
One of the most important distinctions between an RFP and a tender relates to the kind of submissions that bidders are expected to make.
In a tender, the bidder completes a relatively simple form which requires price and other basic information. It may also be expected to provide a few additional documents (i.e., a bonding commitment) to confirm that it will be able to carry out the contract if awarded. Since this kind of information is usually readily available to any commercial supplier, or contractor, from the bidders perspective, a tender actually represents a relatively simplified and low cost method of seeking business, in comparison to the lengthy wooing efforts that are usually employed in private sector procurement.
With an RFP, there is a manifold increase in the burden imposed upon the supplier, and contractor in order to prepare and submit a proposal and thereby participate in the contract competition. For example, in relation to an RFP issued by the City of Kyle, Tex., in 2007, for the design and construction of a recreation facility, the bidders were required to submit proposals that satisfied specific content requirements. This proposal was required to include a conceptual site plan, study models, perspective sketches, electronic modeling or combinations of these media, touching upon relevant aspects of the City of Kyle Parks Master Plan, recommendations by staff, and citizen surveys as part of the overall layout and conceptual design of the facility, and assessing staff usage, operation and space relationship at the facility.
Any drawings prepared were required to be provided in AutoCad format as well as jpeg and PowerPoint. After the RFP submission deadline, and the evaluation of those proposals by the city, the RFP contemplated that a short-list of proponents would be selected and invited firms to participate in an interview by the city's park board. Selected candidates would be expected to make a 15 to 30 minute presentation regarding their proposal and answer related questions, so that each interview would last approximately one hour.
Requirements of this kind are far from unusual in Canada. It is self evident that in order to accommodate the complex kinds of proposals that are submitted in response to an RFP, it is necessary to move a considerable distance from the rules that govern an ordinary request for tender.
In part because the RFP process is so demanding on suppliers, and contractors, and because it is no less demanding on municipal staff, one option that is often considered is to engage in some sort of pre-qualification exercise, in which a short-list of prospective suppliers is identified before the detailed work begins.
In such cases, the municipality's bylaw needs to deal with whether the list of prospective suppliers should be limited to those who have pre-registered or pre-qualified; when (if ever) should pre-qualification be mandatory; how should the pre-qualification process be conducted; and what considerations are relevant.
Over the years pre-qualification is becoming more common with municipalities over a certain dollar amount. As I see it, contractors are finding it harder than ever to first pre-qualify for a large construction project, and then win the bid by having the best, or most qualified RFP response.
One small mistake and you are disqualified after spending so much time preparing the bid. Municipalities should try to make it easier, not harder for contractors to understand what the municipalities are looking for the in RFP scoring process.
Stephen Bauld, Canada's leading expert on government procurement, is a member of the Daily Commercial News editorial advisory board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.