Electronic Tendering and E-Tenders – Good or Bad?

Electronic Tendering is becoming more common place. On the face of it, e-tenders make sense as they give everyone a clear format to follow and help to reduce paper. However, many of our clients are complaining about difficulties encountered with electronic tendering.

Some Examples of Problems with Electronic Tendering

One council’s e-tendering system prohibits easy editing. Each time you save, you have to wait for up to 2 days to receive an email with a NEW hyperlink to get back into your e-tender! This really adds to the stress of tendering!

A utility company’s e-tender required a confusing combination of hard and soft formats. It involved completing text boxes on-line; uploading Word documents; and also printing, signing and posting certain documents.

E-tenders can be difficult to read on-line and download options are generally poor. Many have Excel spreadsheets to download, complete and upload. However Excel isn’t good for writing copy (eg no automatic spell-checking) and some of these spreadsheets have locked cells – making them difficult to work with. The work-around seems to be writing answers in Word, and then copying and pasting into Excel. What a waste of effort!

Sometimes the download documents are locked PDFs – again, not very helpful.

On-line text boxes often do not allow any formatting – making it harder to write good copy.

Apart from wasting time, these issues can be a barrier to collaborative working. This is bad as team working is an essential part of creating good bids.

Lastly, everyone’s’ fear – not being able to upload! For some reason many deadlines seem to be at noon on a Monday. A number of clients have uploaded their e-tenders over the weekend to avoid potentially congested portals!

Good E-tenders

On the flip side, many e-tenders are simply an electronic Word document that requires completing and uploading (perhaps with attachments and a few basic on-line questions). These are nice and straight forward – just like electronic tendering should be.

Experience indicates that good electronic tendering projects take the about same time to complete as traditional hard-copy tenders. But badly designed e-tenders take 20-30% longer.

Electronic tendering seems here to stay; if they are easy to use, then why not. Let’s just hope that the bad versions are binned ASAP!

Successful Electronic Tendering

The first thing is to remember an e-tender is still a tender. You should continue to follow all appropriate best practice as shown in Bid Management.

Secondly, take extra special care – make sure you that are totally clear on what is required in your response and how it should be submitted. If in doubt, ask for guidance.

Consider how it is formatted. How difficult will it be for the person marking your bid to read, understand and navigate the e-tender? Try and make text-box answers as easy to read as possible. Also make appendices easily identifiable by naming the files with the answer number as well as a suitable description  (eg B2a Customer Care).

Lastly, do give yourself sufficient time to respond to everything correctly.

Does anybody else have any views or comments on E-tenders?

4 thoughts on “Electronic Tendering and E-Tenders – Good or Bad?”

  1. This is a good balanced an informative piece Tony, and reaffirms my belief that the people who design the E-tenders platform are ’employees’ and not business people, and therefore have no idea of how frustrating it can be and neither do they care. If they did, then they would be aware of how much it affects collaborative working and how frustrating the process can be. The impact of this is that only the determined will take the time to go through the process, which ultimately can affect the range, type of businesses and quality of companies taking the time to complete the bids.
    It would be good to know if the designers have an end-user support group where they get constructive feedback about the ease of using the system.
    I agree that Etenders are here to stay and maybe with the Government’s drive to engage more small businesses to apply for public sector contracts, they will devote some energy to ensuring that the systems are easy to use and not a discouraging factor.

  2. Morton, I totally agree!
    If only we had opportunity to give feedback, and that it was listened to and acted upon, e-tendering would be much less daunting.
    One client raised an issue that was preventing them from submitting an e-tender but the council ’employee’ was just rude and got annoyed that someone had bothered them! Not wanting to upset their customer, our client was forced to back-off and try and ‘make do’.

  3. I totally agree with both and experienced the same thing as your client Tony.

    Having worked in the public sector for a number of years in the past – I had always seen some, but not all, colleagues just not providing good customer service!! I guess if they were a private company dependent on performing well to gain and retain clients that pay their wage, customer service levels would be of much better quality.

    However, I have no hard feelings 🙂

  4. Hi Edward
    Quite right! Some of the most helpful people I have worked with when tendering have been council employees.
    Sadly when you have poor systems coupled with unhelpful staff, your tendering experience becomes very painful.

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