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As seen in Automation World, relationships work best when both parties operate from a common understanding and shared goals. When this occurs between a client and integrator, it usually involves execution of a successful project that is on time and budget. But, this can be a challenge for a client who is accepting a bid from an integrator for the first time.
During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be both a customer and provider. After approximately nine years as a provider, 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. Through this process, I developed a greater appreciation for the client perspective. With that in mind, I offer these guidelines for how to make the bid process go more smoothly:
1. Ask questions - Writing requirements for the bid can be challenging. A good client should attempt to convey all of the information in the bid requirements, but sometimes a topic may be either intentionally vague or mistakenly omitted in error. 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, the integrator should ask clear questions during the bid process to demonstrate an effort to understand your needs. It also provides an opportunity for the integrator to impress you with superior knowledge and creative thinking.
2. Pay attention to 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. Many time, you may specify a brand and model for a component. While the integrator might not agree with your selection and they would prefer to propose an alternative - you might have very valid reasons for that specific selection. It may not be the perfect solution for this project, but it could already be a standard across the entire facility. This also provides another opportunity for the integrator to demonstrate attention to detail regarding the requirements.
3. Cut the fluff - While integrators typically don’t do this, when you receive a proposal that is 90% glossies and marketing material, it is just frustrating. If anything, it seriously dilutes the integrator’s differentiating value. If it is difficult for you to wade through documents to gather all of the facts, you might decide to just ignore the bid all together. Since you are typically receiving three or four proposals, the more reading you have to do, will lower your chances of success for any potential integrator.
4. 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, it provides 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, it is better for them to omit references, as opposed to providing something irrelevant and risking the chance of demonstrating a lack of understanding of your bid request.
5. Big Files – Most IT departments put caps on file sizes and employee mail. If the integrator has large files, it is better for them to use a secure professional file sharing service such as ShareFile or WatchDox. You will likely regard files from a personal DropBox or ad-hoc file sharing service as unprofessional. The integrator’s proposal likely contains sensitive information, so a secure site is imperative.
6. 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. Your vendors need to remember that this could be the beginning of a long term relationship with your company. They should keep in mind that even if this bid isn’t successful, their first class presentation might ensure inclusion in your future bid requests.
- Andy R.