Why is the RFT process so complicated?

It’s clear that a typical tender follows an extended and sometimes tortuous path to the marketplace. That said, an RFT is essentially a description of what the department wants to buy. While this may seem pretty straight forward, many people struggle to understand the RFT and are left frustrated by its complexity. More than one company has turned away from a lucrative project that was well within their capability simply because the tender documents were a seemingly incomprehensible puzzle of jargon, bureaucratic babble and legalese. Let us put aside this frustration for the present and revisit one of the central tenants of this book – “understanding your customer” – to explore why tender documents are so complicated.

 

Risk

Risk Government agencies are extremely risk-averse. Ministers, local government Councillors and departments hate seeing their names dragged through the media when equipment or services do not perform as expected or there have been major budget blowouts. Just think about some of the headlines over recent years regarding submarines, helicopters, home insulation, school buildings and IT systems. As a result, departments load up the procurement process with ever more procedures and legalese, which only makes the final tender documents you confront all the more complicated.

Devolving procurement responsibility and borrowed templates

There has been an emphasis in recent times on devolving the procurement task to work teams that are directly involved in using the product or service. There is some logic to this approach but it leads to inexperienced people developing tender documents and running procurement projects. The situation is made worse when the inexperienced staff try to shoehorn their projects into borrowed templates from other departments, often with frustrating results for suppliers that have to untangle the tender documents in order to develop and lodge their tenders.

Hijacked by internal approvals

The complex and time-consuming process of developing business cases, consulting with stakeholders and gaining the approval of the procurement and legal advisors can often hijack the staff developing the tender documents. In my experience the procurement team can lock onto getting the document through the internal approval process. This becomes their objective by unintended stealth. It almost creeps up on them. They forget the tender documents have to be understood by suppliers who have not had the benefit of massaging and developing the RFT piece by piece for months; suppliers who are under tight deadlines to get their tender lodged by the closing date. In these situations something that is obvious to the procurement staff can lead to much head-scratching by suppliers who often mutter “What on earth does that mean?”

Probity

Probity is about transparency and being able to prove that the procurement process has been conducted openly and fairly. Good probity gives suppliers confidence that the best tender will win the business. Without probity, government procurement would be chaotic and businesses would be heartily dissuaded from investing the time and resources necessary to bid for tenders. However, probity does complicate things. By its very nature, probity is legalistic and generates a lot of paperwork and prolonged, complicated processes, all of which take time and make the process more convoluted.

Value for money

If it were just about being the cheapest then evaluating tenders would be easy work done quickly. Thankfully, value for money considers more than just dollars. However, this veracity does come at its own cost because incorporating technical capability and risk into the final decision of who wins and loses adds considerable complexity to the evaluation process. This is especially so with risk where the judgement is always based on a subjective assessment of where the weaknesses may lie in a company’s offer.