Improving the Quality of Campus Safety Project Bids

Our nonprofit center has had a good year for bid projects. Though we traditionally receive the majority of our work through word of mouth, we began seeking opportunities to bid on projects a couple of years ago. At first, we lost most of the bids we submitted because we were not very skilled at writing them. We have learned a great deal about the process and won the majority of the bids we submitted this year. This is particularly good news for the organizations we assist on a pro bono basis, as our center is funded primarily through our consulting projects.
Despite the sluggish economy, we will now be able to increase our pro bono services by more than $1M in 2010. This past year has been filled with lessons learned for us on campus safety bid processes. We have particularly learned a great deal from the campus organizations we received bids from.
Effective Bid Practices
We have seen a number of very logical and effective bid practices during this time. Since the basic idea of bidding out campus safety consulting or equipment purchase project is for the client to obtain the highest quality services and/or products at the lowest price, the way a request for proposal (RFP) or other bid solicitation documents are written can have a major impact on the outcome. And while cost is often a major consideration in these types of bids, making it the most important consideration is likely to result in a poor quality project and increase exposure to civil liability.
Many higher-education RFPs are getting more sophisticated and far more effective at selecting the right vendor for their safety bid projects. A few of the selection considerations that make good sense include:
  • The client reserves the right to select the firm that would serve the best interest of the institution.
  • The RFP spells out clearly how vendors should submit questions, how those questions will be answered, and all questions and answers are provided to all registered vendors.
  • Cost is a significant scoring factor, but not so high in value that it will determine the winning bidder (15 to 25 percent of total points).
  • A variety of scoring criteria are used in balance with cost, such as points for experience with your specific type of products or services, feedback from relevant references, quality of products, etc.
  • The client reserves the right to negotiate with one or more finalists (this can be very important if all qualified bids come in above the total available budget for the project).
  • Requiring vendors to list any previous litigation they have been involved with, open records requests they have filed, contracts that have been terminated by past clients, and appeals they have filed when they lost bids. This can help the institution spot firms that are difficult to deal with or that may create legal problems.
  • Requiring vendors to provide a client list for the previous three years for all clients for similar projects. This can be helpful in demonstrating how focused on the higher-education arena a firm is.
  • Placing firm limits on substitution of personnel or equipment. It is not unheard of for consulting firms to include in a bid résumés for their top people, only to substitute lower-caliber personnel when it comes time to do the work.
  • Require bidding firms to demonstrate a track record of timely completion of projects and to disclose any projects that have not been completed on time.
  • Ensuring that adequate time is allowed for vendors to prepare bids. Allowing three to four weeks for vendors to respond will typically increase the number of proposals received and allows vendors to prepare better quality bids.
  • Points offered for value-added services. This is an excellent way to maximize what an institution receives from vendors because it forces vendors to truly compete for your business.
  • Requiring six or more references for similar projects.
  • Requiring vendors to spell out how conflicts between an equipment manufacturer and a local firm that installs and services the equipment will be addressed. One state university ended up with many of their emergency phones permanently down because the manufacturer and the local vendor each maintained the other was responsible for the problem.
Taking care in crafting a sound and logical RFP can dramatically enhance the competitiveness of campus safety bid processes. Demanding excellence from your service providers will result in better products and services. The best vendors should not have any difficulty in meeting the types of requirements they spell out. After all, the closer you examine the best firms, the better they look.