Simply put, e-tendering is where the procurement process is conducted online. Under Regulation 22 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, it is a legal requirement for public bodies to use electronic means of communication and information exchange in regulated procurement procedures. Further, the e-tendering process helps to ensure fairness, transparency and auditability, as well as simplicity for bidders. E-tenders are therefore very common in public sector.
What is e-tendering?
Different local authorities and other buyers use various portals. To participate in an e-tender, you must therefore identify the portal used by the buyer and register with a username and password. From there, you can:
- Find suitable tender opportunities
- Submit an expression of interest (EOI)
- Complete and submit an SQ (selection questionnaire) – commonly referred to as a PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire)
- Complete and submit an e-tender
- Download all relevant bid and tender documents
- Ask and receive responses for questions pertaining to the PQQ and tender via the clarifications process
- Track the progress of your PQQ or tender
- Receive notifications of any changes to the specification of the PQQ or tender
- Access records of your responses to previous PQQ and tenders
- Upload any relevant documents.
Benefits of e-tenders
E-tendering is useful because it guides you through a very structured process. Unlike traditional tendering processes, e-tendering takes you step by step through the tender and sometimes requires you to complete one part before you can progress to the next. Even if that is not the case, the e-tender system will be divided into discrete sections and will usually have very prescriptive questions, making it easier to provide the buyer with the information they require.
With the layout and the questions clearly stated, you do not have to worry about format or form, and no one can benefit from any design or creative advantages.
For that reason, e-tendering goes some way to levelling the playing field. With a conventional tender, factors such as design flair and addressing criteria beyond what has been requested may unduly impact on the outcome. With an e-tender, everyone is answering the same questions and often within a set word limit, so it should be much easier for the evaluator to reach an objective decision.
E-tenders very often include fool-proofing mechanisms. For example, most major portals prevent bidders from submitting an e-tender unless they have completed all the mandatory sections or, at the very least, provide a warning that sections are incomplete or that documents have not been attached. This means it is almost impossible to submit a non-compliant bid in terms of non-completion of mandatory questions.
Using an e-tendering portal (e-portal) also means that it is much easier to pick up where you left off. Many major e-tendering portals even provide a progress bar and percentage, telling you much you have completed and how much of your bid is outstanding, which is handy for project management and keeping your tender on track.
Disadvantages of e-tendering
The downside of this type of tendering is that there can be a lot of questions. It can seem like a marathon, and often the questions do not seem to link through to one another. When writing a proposal, you can think about telling a cohesive story throughout the course of your submission, but e-tenders with highly prescriptive evaluation criteria and pre-defined, word-limited questions make that challenging.
The questions can be disjointed and badly worded, which can further break up the flow of the finished submission. Sometimes, the e-tenders are very dense and confusing, difficult to navigate and even more difficult to access in the first place, which might deter less experienced bidders from participating.
A further downside of e-tendering could be that its highly prescriptive structure does not always leave as much room for innovation. It can be done, but you need to present innovations within the context of the questions being asked. Nonetheless, it is much harder as generally you are not permitted to draw on design, individuality or many supporting documents.
Whatever you do when you are completing a tender opportunity via an e-tendering system, save your work regularly and leave yourself plenty of time. The e-portals can become slow and unresponsive when a lot of bidders are accessing the site. Typically, this happens close to the submission deadline, particularly for major tenders with many interested parties, so try to log on and submit your e-tender much earlier.
Some sites are better than others but:
|The website can crash||Your computer can shut down or your desktop may be affected by a power cut|
|Your internet connection may suddenly go down||Your time on the e-tendering site may time out.*|
*Government regulations mean that they websites time out every 15 minutes unless you refresh the content, 15 minutes isn’t long!
Tips for submitting e-tenders
For e-tenders with portal-based answer boxes, work offline and then transfer your responses onto the portal once complete. For example, write your answers in a Word document and then paste them into the answer boxes. This acts as a spellchecker, and also retains a record should anything go wrong with the e-portal.