Simply put, electronic tendering or ‘e-tendering’ is where the procurement process is conducted online using a procurement platform. It provides bidders with a streamlined process, enabling them to access documents easily, identify submission dates and access more tendering opportunities. 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 tendering, accounting for the majority of submission methods.
What is e-tendering? How does e-tendering work?
When reviewing tender documents using publicly available sites such as Find a Tender and Contracts Finder, the contract notice will often direct you to register your interest and access the tender documents on the buyer’s preferred portal. Once you have access to the correct e-tender portal, you must register with a username and password and, from there, you can begin the e-tender process by using functionalities which enable you to:
- 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 PQQs and tenders
- Upload any relevant documents.
Benefits of e-tenders
E-tendering is useful because it provides a structured process that takes you step by step through the process.
E-tenders sometimes require you to complete one section before you can progress to the next. Even if that is not the case, the e-tender system divides the tender into sections which clearly lay out the responses and information required by the buyer, flagging any incomplete sections. Most portals, like Proactis, include fool-proofing mechanisms which can prevent bidders from submitting an e-tender if mandatory sections are incomplete or if any mandatory documents have not been attached.
E-tendering provides companies with a level playing field when tendering online. In conventional tenders, factors such as design flair may unduly impact the outcome, but with an e-tender the standardised system ensures all responses are assessed specifically and solely against the established award criteria. This means that you do not have to worry about format or form, with no one able to benefit from additional design or creative advantages. Additionally, the in-portal messaging facilities mean you can raise clarifications directly to the relevant person, which are also responded to via the portal, providing greater transparency throughout the process.
Smart portal functionalities can further support you in producing your tender response, such as a progress bar and percentage tracker which make it easier to manage tender progress. You will be informed of any changes made to tender detail/specifications via email notifications from the portal, alongside reminders to ensure responses are completed and submitted before the deadline.
Disadvantages of e-tendering
The downside of e-tendering is that there can be a lot of questions. It can seem like a marathon, and often the questions do not seem to form a pattern with each other. When writing a proposal, you must tell a cohesive story throughout the course of your submission, but with e-tenders the highly prescriptive evaluation criteria and predefined, word-limited questions can make the process difficult.
Sometimes, the e-tenders are very dense and confusing or the questions can often feel disjointed and badly worded, further breaking up the flow of the finished submission. Difficulty in navigating the portal might deter less experienced bidders from participating in the tendering process altogether.
The highly prescriptive structure of the e-tendering process can also be a challenge for less experienced bidders. The lack of room for innovation or commitments which fall outside the stated evaluation criteria can make your response feel thin and less impactful. However, it is possible to overcome this challenge: innovations must be presented within the specific context of the questions being asked. For example, sophisticated and cutting-edge IT systems might be incorporated into responses around contract management or performance management as appropriate.
E-tendering practical considerations
With e-tendering now used for most public sector procurement, the portals are also more advanced, meaning the issues that used to hinder bidders such as slow upload speed and the site crashing are no longer such a concern. However, there are still challenges to consider:
- Your internet connection may suddenly go down
- Your time on the e-tendering site may time out – government regulations mean that portals will time out every 15 minutes unless content is refreshed
- Your computer can shut down or your desktop may be affected by a power cut
- You may experience upload issues.
None of the above issues are classed by buyers as a reason to reopen the tender process, or to accept your tender after the deadline. It is therefore important that you allow time to fully complete the e-tender elements of the submission and to allow time to upload
Tips for submitting e-tenders 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, particularly close to the submission deadline for major tenders with many interested parties, so try to log on and submit your e-tender with time to spare.
For e-tenders with portal-based answer boxes, work offline and then, once complete, transfer your responses onto the portal. For example, write responses 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.
Having a thorough understanding and experience in standard tendering will be highly beneficial for success in the e-tendering process. See our seven top tips for tendering here.
E-tendering support from Executive Compass
Latest NewsView All
With only a few weeks left before Christmas, it is crucial to ensure you have sufficient resources in place for any bid and tender submissions falling during the holiday period. With many staff members taking annual l...
Bid and tender submissions can vary in size and word count, ranging from 1,000 words to upwards of 50,000 words. This can depend on a number of factors, including the level of detail required by the buyer, complexity ...
Some clients occasionally conflate or confuse social value and added value when bidding for public sector contracts. We explain their differences, ideas for both topics and how best to respond to them within the tende...