During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be both an end user customer and a technology services provider. After working as a provider for nearly a decade, I went to work as an owner’s agent for a new facility located in Taiwan. One of my first duties was to facilitate the bid process for multiple vendors. To offer a sense of scale and complexity, consider that it was a greenfield facility and involved hardware and software for normal utilities automation,complex SCADA functions interfacing with many different OEM pieces of equipment, batch sequencing, and interfaces with a laboratory information system and SAP (enterprise resources planning system).
Through this process, I developed a greater appreciation for the client perspective. With that in mind, I offer the following guidelines for how to make the bid process go more smoothly:
Expect questions. Writing requirements for the bid can be challenging. A good client should attempt to convey all of the information in the bid requirements. Sometimes, however, a topic may be either intentionally vague or mistakenly omitted. As a client, you might decide to leave an area open for best-in-class solutions or to seek out superior knowledge. No matter the reason, expect the integrator to ask clear questions during the bid process to demonstrate an effort to understand your needs.
Expect respect for specific selections. If you stipulate a specific selection for an item or requirement, the bidder shouldn’t substitute or ignore the requirement without discussing it with you first. This is an opportunity for the integrator to demonstrate attention to detail regarding the requirements.
Beware the fluff. While integrators typically don’t do this, when you receive a proposal that is 90 percent glossies and marketing material it is frustrating. If anything, it seriously dilutes the integrator’s differentiating value.
Check relevant references. During the bid process, you normally require relevant job references. Even though most don’t look exactly like the job out for bid, they can still provide an opportunity for you to get a better feel for capabilities as well as jobs that overlap in terms of required skills. If you ask for references that the bidder doesn’t have, understand that it can be better for them to omit references than to provide something irrelevant and risk the chance of demonstrating a lack of understanding of your bid request.
Expect appropriate handling of large files. Most IT departments put caps on file sizes and employee mail. Since the integrator’s proposal will also likely contain sensitive information, a secure site is imperative. It is best for the integrator to use a secure professional file sharing service such as ShareFile or WatchDox.
Expect them to be on time. There is no better way for a bidder to lose the chance to win the job than by being late. When you are bidding out a project, you are likely too busy to do it yourself. If an integrator can’t make a meeting or a teleconference, they need to let you know as far in advance as possible. Everyone understands that things come up, but if you receive a note five minutes before a call, that is unacceptable. Most importantly, they need to submit the bid by the due date. Allowing one vendor to submit their bid later can cause serious issues with scheduling.
I was surprised by how many vendors violated these guidelines during the bid process. You want to hire an integrator that will be professional and will keep the project on schedule and on budget. Your bidders should understand that, even if this bid isn’t successful, their first class presentation might ensure inclusion in your future bid requests.
Andy Robinson is an Information Solutions Consultant at Avid Solutions Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avid Solutions, visit their profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.