The dangers of 20 times tendering

They’re not the most exciting things I read in the day, but I like to keep an eye on the tender notices published by public sector organisations in the UK.

There is little chance of us at Jumoo going for these tenders, but it at least allows you to see just how much people are paying for things like Content Management Systems and website delivery, these days (a lot is the short answer).

One thing that strikes me (apart from the tender values) is the varying quality in how the tenders go about asking for what they want. Many are vague and do not clearly outline just what the organisation is hoping to achieve from the procurement of new technology.

One such tender I recently saw was amazing: New Content Management System , Value: £50k - £2 milllion. Apparently, they were open to bids that could be 20 times higher than the lower end of their range of interest. What’s more, they were incredibly vague in what they were hoping to get for this - the tender basically said, “Something to manage our website, please. Thanks.”

We don’t know what we’re doing, come work with us

Putting a tender out like this sends a clear message to potential suppliers that a) you don’t know what you want, and b) you have £2 million pounds to spend. Whilst you might get a great partner from this process, let’s be clear: that tender is going to attract quite a lot of people looking for a “quick win”, and it is you who will have to workout which bids are worthwhile.

Knowing what you want

When entering into procurement it is tempting to leave the door open. After all you need to “listen to what the market is telling you”, “they are the experts” and you want their opinion to help you get the best from the technology. That might be true, but it shouldn’t prevent you from doing some upfront work to understand your business needs, and the market you are about to jump into.

Do you already have the answer ?

The first question you should ask is, why are we going to tender? I have seen many organisations go to tender for a new system when, in fact, it’s not the system that is unfit, but the processes. Buying a shiny new system is never going to solve your people problems.

What are your (measurable) goals?

Knowing what you are trying to achieve, as a business, is critical, and this has to be more than “We don’t like the current system,” or “It looks old.” You need clear, measurable goals, that you can start to evaluate your systems against. This will help you work out, not only if the current system is fit for purpose, but also, how you are going to measure any new systems, should you get one.

Reduce Requirements

Ahh, CMS requirements documents. They must be at least 68 pages long and detail every possible feature you might ever want, then you can tick every box and prove you got the CMS you deserve.

The biggest danger here is applying the same weight to obscure feature X as something that is business critical to your organisation. So you might get a system that lets you paste directly from word, but then forget that it has to run on your current ICT infrastructure, or be something your developers can work with.

The first thing I do when I see a CMS requirements document is try to get it down to a list of four or five things that actually matter. The reality is, all CMSs have a Bold button, and let you paste content from Word. You need to understand the things that actually matter to how you are going to manage and run your website.

Some of these critical requirements might be a technology based; you need to run on a certain platform, or your development team is skilled in language x. These things matter in how you manage and develop your site beyond the initial build and delivery.

Another requirement might be around governance - if you have a devolved content management model, and want to check all the content, workflow will be important to you, as will granular security, but if you’re centralized with a few editors then this isn’t going to matter as much.

Research the field

Many organisations appear to jump into the procurement process blind. Whether the CMS will cost £50k, or £2 million, is really something you should have a clearer idea on before you start anything. It’s not to hard to workout how much people are really paying. Tender awards actually tell you the value of contracts, so you can look through them to get an idea of how much similar organisations are spending. There is also a growing field of information from open development teams within organisations, explaining exactly how long and how much effort they put into the development of their website.

Do it better

Procuring a technology solution is often the biggest single expense for a digital service within a public sector organisation, and it has massive knock on effects for how things are managed and delivered. It doesn’t take much to make sure you are prepared before you start the process. You just need to be sure you know what you need, before you ask other people to tell you what they think you want.