Keep track of information
It’s time for a realistic approach to information management. This is not an article about IT or techie stuff. I’ll leave that for greater minds. It’s about common sense.
I am reliably informed that vendors work, eat, sleep and have lives much like the procurement community. Vendors are the other side of the contracting coin. Without them, we would not be able to fulfill our requirements. And yet we treat them differently than we treat ourselves. Vendors of all kinds (contractors, agents, bidders, offerers, proposers and others) look to us for information, and if they don’t get it from us, they will get it elsewhere.
My preference is that purchasing becomes the focal point of contact for all information regarding solicitations for goods and services. That way the information can be released in accordance with established procedures and at the appropriate time.
As public employees, we are under greater scrutiny than ever before. The Freedom of Information Act gives the public unfettered access to public information. As custodians, we follow the law to ensure the transparency of public contracting.
You also may have to deal with Sunshine Laws in your jurisdiction, which require government meetings to be open to the public with reasonable notice given and minutes taken of those meetings.
How we deal with information and when we release it speaks volumes about the way we do business and how successful we are in retaining productive partners in contracting.
Information management starts with solicitation documents. Are yours complete? Are they easy to read and understand? Are you describing your jurisdiction’s needs or are you just copying someone’s standard product literature?
Is your solicitation document logically sequenced? Did you place the intent of your needs up front, so the reader can decide whether he or she wants to bid or not? Or is it hidden in the back, after the technical specifications and standard boilerplate?
Do the language and terminology make sense? Using words such as “heretofore” and “party of the first part” and “whereas” may be appropriate for some documents, but you are writing a contract, not the Magna Carta or the great American novel.
Bid openings and proposal receipts are public ceremonies. Understand that people attend them for one purpose—to gain information. What information do you release? Give vendors what is easy for you to give without compromising the evaluation process. Tell them the prices but let them know it is unevaluated information and the math needs to be verified. At least they can go back to their offices with something.
I’m not in favor of letting the original documents out of my sight or anyone making copies of bids. A bid tabulation sheet handed out at a bid opening has raw, unevaluated data on it and can be a problem later in the process. Purchasing needs to have time to evaluate a response, check with internal clients, determine responsiveness and responsibility and perform due process prior to releasing information. Give yourself the time to evaluate in the cold hard light of your cubicle. I’d rather see you take more time than have a bidder wrongfully think they are low when in fact they are not.
Everyday casual conversations with bidders and proposers do not exist. They only speak to you to get information or gain an advantage over their competition. The setting may change, but the conditions do not. Whether it’s a trade show, a hallway chat, an informal telephone conversation about the weather or an e-mail, be prudent, be judicious, be polite, be careful. Whatever you say, someone may act upon your words to their advantage. If information is public, then certainly you can divulge where and when it may be obtained. If the information has not yet become public, then it would be in your best interest not to divulge it.
It is especially difficult to keep track of information in this communication age. A well-meaning client may forward your e-mail containing information to a bidder, or a client may talk separately to someone at a walk-through or field visit. Talk to your internal clients before such occasions and remind them that you are the one voice for your organization. Remember, you get to decide who knows what and when they get it.
Know your organizational policies regarding divulging bid information. Get a clear picture of how you do business and make sure everyone knows your policy. Put it in your brochures, post it on your Web sites and in your public areas. It’s the best way to avoid surprises.
Information management starts when a document is created and never stops. The potential exists for a request for information about a long-forgotten contract. You have to be able to retrieve that information, and quickly. Be prepared!
About the author
Frederick Marks, CPPO, VCO, is a retired purchasing officer who has held positions as a supervising buyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as director of material management for Northern Virginia Community College. Contact Marks at [email protected].