Submitting an e-tender is now the typical process for public sector procurement – simply put, this means using an online portal to conduct all elements of the tender exercise.
E-tendering is the same as the hard-copy tender process, apart from the fact the exercise is all carried out online. The fundamentals of tendering for a contract have not changed, but the way you need to interact with the buyer has changed, and should now be more streamlined for a company bidding for a contract.
An overview of the e-tendering process:
- The authority will release a contract notice, including a link to the online portal they are using for the bidding exercise. They will also provide details of a direct point of contact.
- Register, or log on, to the portal to express your interest and gain access to the full tender pack
- Use the portal for all communication and clarification questions with the buyer
- Either download the documents or work online directly in the portal to write your bid – we advise drafting in a Word document and copying the response to the portal once complete
- Once the bid is complete, upload and submit your tender ahead of the deadline
- Use the portal for any further correspondence about your bid, and ultimately notification of the outcome
- Stay signed up to the portal for notification of future contract opportunities with the same buyer.
Why do buyers use e-tendering?
The e-tender system was introduced to make the traditional hard-copy bid process more streamlined and more transparent. Using an online portal allows the buyer to communicate with all bidders using message or clarification functions at the same time, enabling fairness and transparency across the e-tender process. Generally, there is less admin involved for both buyers and suppliers, as the e-tendering method is less onerous in terms of paperwork. For an organisation bidding there is no designing, printing and posting of a hard copy bid!
It also means the rules must be adhered to; it is easier for the authority to check all documents have been uploaded and that the timescale has been met. If you do not meet the deadline, your bid will not be accepted online, and the portal window will close. Again, this means the process is fair and the same rules exist for all bidders.
Switching to an electronic method means suppliers can find everything they need to know about a contract or buyer in one place. There are usually functions to check previous bid submissions and access storage of attachments and documents – if you are bidding regularly this can save quite a bit of time and effort.
What does it mean for bidders?
For all organisations e-tendering regularly for contracts there are a number of things to keep in mind:
- Ensure you have familiarised yourself with the portals that you will be using, or use, regularly – check which portals your buyers use and create an account
- Regularly check the message functions on the portal, or your email alerts for any information on existing or potential tender contracts – this is the typical method of contact and the buyer is unlikely to call you or send hard-copy information
- Keep a record of all log in details so that you are never caught short if you need to log on to a portal for anything urgent
- Get to know the tricks of the trade! For example, sometimes word counts only appear once you start typing into text boxes so check this before you start writing
- Make sure you log in and submit your e-tender in plenty of time – it is not uncommon for portals to crash or become unresponsive if they are particularly busy right before a deadline
- You may need to differentiate in other ways – online portals often remove the scope for design and can be prescriptive – you need to really sell your company in your bid writing and evidence alone.