Request For Proposals Excellent Tools, But Can Hide Dangers

Request For Proposals Excellent Tools, But Can Hide Dangers
June 26, 2007 Mike Tully

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are a standard method of soliciting services for a reason – they can save you money. They are often efficient mechanisms for the buyer to get the lowest possible price. However, when procuring professional services like geospatial services, they are not always advisable to get the best value for your money.

The danger is introduced when the RFPs inaccurately describe the project. The language used, the process prescribed, and/or assumptions of the buyer or provider can lead to problems. If a poorly written RFP is issued, the buyer will compare inaccurate bids. The buyer is then forced to choose what they “think” is a capable service provider for services that have not been clearly defined nor consistently priced. This, often coupled with extreme pressure to get the lowest price, can lead to a provider who lacks experience, does not provide the expected quality service, or who contrives a cost/service package in their best interest and to the detriment of the buyer.

If the buyer spends sufficient time preparing their RFP, they can avoid an inferior result.

Get The Information

Start by asking for all the information needed to make a wise decision. Below are the typical sections buyers may wish to include in their professional services RFPs. These sections make up what is known as the “Scope of Services.”

  • Responsibilities: A description of the responsibilities of the buyer and provider will help to avoid confusion and make the project run smoothly. If the buyer is likely to provide the contractor with existing data (like ground control or an existing DTM) this should be noted. In turn, list if the contractor must perform certain tasks or meet certain deadlines.
  • Subcontractors: You should request a list of all subcontractors the submitting firm expects to use. This list should include the subcontractor’s name and address, location (are they U.S. or foreign “off-shore” companies?), what services they will deliver, and how they will be used by the submitting firm.
  • Specifications: All professional services have profession specific specifications, terms, and definitions that should appear with every solicitation. When procuring geospatial services such as aerial photography, mapping, ground control, and orthophotography from providers like Aerial Services, Inc., include the following:
    • Supplemental Project Data: All geospatial projects relate to a location on earth. If the buyer can provide the contractor with a shape file defining important project boundaries, it is extremely helpful in accurately designing a project and estimating costs. These are also important contractual elements that help both parties objectively determine if the deliverables properly cover the specified geographical area(s).
    • List of Topographic & Planimetric Features: List all of the features you want digitized (such as road centerlines, road edges, fire hydrants, buildings, decks on buildings, sidewalks, rivers, top/bottom of river banks, etc.). This list should be as specific as possible. The professional services provider can provide assistance in helping you decide which features are important and what each will cost.
  • List of Deliverables: This detailed “List of Deliverables” should be included near the end of the “Scope of Services.” It clarifies exactly what the contractor is expected to deliver.
  • List Optional Items: Professional service providers may suggest alternate ways of providing the requested items. Or the buyer may request feedback about optional items. Therefore, buyers should provide a section in which these optional items are described.
  • Price Sheet for Deliverables and Optional Items: A standardized price sheet guarantees the contractors will provide prices for the items requested consistent with the needs of the buyer. For example, instead of using a single line item like “Topographic Mapping,” it may be important multiple line items be specified such as “Ground Control,” “DTM,” and “2-foot Contours,” because different groups may be purchasing these items. It is also important not to group dissimilar items into a single line item because this makes it difficult or impossible for the buyer to discern the real cost of each item. It is always advisable the pricing sheet request a flat fee or a ‘price per unit’ for each item. These prices can then easily be compared between different vendors.
  • Liability Insurance & Performance Bonds: The buyer is advised to require the contractor and all subcontractors to carry adequate insurance coverage for workers compensation, general liability, etc. Other insurance protection may be required depending on the project.
  • Bid Bonds: These instruments are occasionally included with RFPs and require all bidders to include a bond (or check) with their proposal equal to an established portion of the proposal amount. A bid bond is intended to keep frivolous bidders out of the process, guarantee the owner the vendor will honor its proposal, and the vendor will sign all contract documents if awarded the contract. Unfortunately, these add cost to the procurement and are generally not needed when procuring professional services from reputable companies.
  • Performance Bonds: These bonds are sometimes included with lowest-proposal procurements. The Performance Bond secures the contractor’s promise to perform the contract in accordance with its terms and conditions at the agreed upon price and within the time allowed. For many smaller projects, bonds are an unnecessary expense ultimately borne by the buyer with a rise in the overall project cost. When procuring services for very large projects these instruments may be warranted.
  • Invoices & Payments: This section outlines how the buyer will be invoiced by the contractor, when the invoice will be paid, and any other terms.
  • Proposal Copies: Typically, solicitations require multiple paper copies. Buyers may wish to consider allowing the contractor to provide these materials in digital form as PDFs or Microsoft Word format. These digital copies are transferred easily, are easy to read on screen, and can be copied as needed – reducing resources and costs.

Evaluate More Complete Proposals

By requesting more complete and accurate RFPs, buyers give themselves a clearer picture of which provider can provide the highest quality deliverables with the best price. Then, they can compare providers’ offers and be confident they have all the information needed to make the best decision regarding their investment.

Look For Part 2 In The Next Issue

In Part 2 of this RFP series, we will address how to indicate various geospatial specifications. A thorough description of key specifications ensures a geospatial RFP will benefit your organization.

For example, one of the most important parts of any photogrammetric service is the positional accuracy specifications. These often go unspecified and if not clearly defined, the estimated costs will vary and it may be impossible for the buyer to compare approaches between contractors to determine which is the best value.

Learn how to avoid these pitfalls in Part 2 of our RFP series.

Questions Or Comments?

If you have questions about this article, feel free to contact Aerial Services, Inc.’s experts for advice with no obligation. We are here to help you.