Writing Tenders/ITT’s for SharePoint

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tenders are the often a means of purchasing a SharePoint Solution, especially for public sector organisations that have to go through this process by law if the solution is over a certain value. The Invitation To Tender (ITT) is often the first detail the supplier will have about what functionality needs to be delivered in the solution if they haven't been lucky enough to have been dealing with the organisation already. It is essential that this document contains the right level of detail to enable the supplier to accurately bid on the work and also for the awarding body to ensure that it is clear what they want. At this stage a technical spec of the solution may be too time consuming to include in the ITT, after all this is what the supplier will be writing if they win the contract. However, not including enough detail will cause problems both in the selection process and during the project. The awarding body needs to compare apples with apples when deciding which supplier to use, if this is not possible because the ITT has been too vague the selection process will take longer and the negotiations with the chosen supplier will be protracted.

Comparing a typical SharePoint solution cycle

If the process to choosing a supplier is not through the tendering process and is a more ad-hoc selection, there are certain steps that a supplier and the company that wishes to contract would take.

  1. The company looks on internet/consults colleagues/uses existing relationships to shortlist a number of suppliers that they wish to deal with.
  2. These suppliers are invited in for an initial meeting to discuss the project and provide an overview of their services.
  3. The company provides an overview of the project to the suppliers and answers any technical questions.
  4. The suppliers will give a pitch to win the job and give an indication of the likely price.
  5. The supplier performs some paid services to define a functional specification (or technical depending on the complexity of the project) and gives a firm price.
  6. The supplier submits a final project cost with the agreed specification.

Obviously this comes with a disclaimer for individual projects and not all projects will allow for paid specification writing but it should be the goal of any sales person to progress the project in this way. The larger the project the more drawn out this process. So the question is how does this differ from a Tender process and how do you ensure that you get what you want whilst paying a good price.

Firstly the supplier is going to guess what they think you want, you have heard of Chinese whispers, well imagine this where the ITT is the whisper where one person writes the tender and passes it on to the other without actual speaking, I hope you get the idea. The question is does the other person know what you want just by reading the document?

What to/not to include in an ITT

If I leave you with one thought it would be that in any ITT/Contract/Specification it is equally important to state what is not required or included in the contract. A supplier can be seen as a means to an end, but you can decide to have a good working relationship with them or a fraught and tense relationship with them. Supplier management is about giving them the information to be able to provide an excellent service. Too often suppliers are given unrealistic timescales, not given enough information or assumptions are made that strain the relationship. Business decisions can dictate some of these variables, but a good and lasting relationship is about a win, win situation. You need a service delivered to timescales and to budget and the supplier needs to make a profit and hopefully use you as a reference site.

So this is why it is essential that you clearly define what will be in the contract e.g. how many days of content migration there are, how many training days do you require for how many people etc. On the flip side specify that you don't want workflows or My sites, the more information you give a supplier the more likely you are to get what you want and receive a low quote.

Integrations points – the unknown

One of the biggest headaches for a supplier, if not the biggest when trying to come up with a price for a tender is determining integration points and costs. It is never enough to say that a particular system needs to be integrated to SharePoint, if this is not essential then deal with it after the supplier has delivered the solution because mentioning that SharePoint will/may need to integrate into the system in the future is like saying, could you power a car using nuclear fuel, the answer is yes but is it within your budget or feasible. If it is essential then go into the technical detail of how this will be achieved. The trouble with integration points is in most cases that they either work or they don't, 90% of the cost can be used trying to get that last 10% to work. If they are not clearly defined and the costs spiral out of control you will have a supplier who is not making a profit and who will reduce cost elsewhere at the detriment to the quality of the final solution.

In Summary

Always include enough information in the ITT that will enable you to get the best solution, at the best price and delivered with high quality. Include what you don't want the solution to do, which will reduce cost. Investigate the integration points and provide a technical spec for this this part of the work if at all possible.

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