Public Sector Bidding Around the World (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a write-up based on an October 2020 APMP Bid & Proposal Conference Panel session which was chaired by our Founder, Andrew Morrison. The panel also included: Andrea Preda (Romania), Bruce Morton (USA), Izane Cloete-Hamilton (South Africa), Sampada Abhyankar (India) and Victoria Lankreijer (Australia).

What impact has COVID-19 had on you personally, on your work life, your bids, have you moved from an office to home?

UK – We moved out of WeWork offices in Edinburgh, with a great view of Edinburgh Castle, all kinds of benefits for our team but with COVID, we followed government advice to work from home where possible. I have a nice home and good space to work but that’s not always the case for everybody. Many people want to have a hybrid working model where they are able to go into the office when needed but can also work at home.

Romania – I have worked from home for 3 years, so not a high impact for me. There are more meetings to attend and the people we work with have the impression that we are always online, that we don’t sleep! I have an office with a nice view from my home but miss colleagues very much, talking, drinking a coffee with a friend, etc.

USA – Prior to the pandemic, I worked in an office, lots of meetings with customers in their facilities, a lot of the work is classified, so special facilities sometimes. On March 9th 2020, I returned from presenting in Amsterdam at APMP’s first European International Conference. I landed back in the US and there was already a shortage of toilet paper – why? Working from home is very efficient with people not able to travel. If you want to make an agreement with another company, normally you have to locate the key personnel in different countries and time zones, who are not always readily available. I’m getting things done in 3 hours that would take 5 days.

South Africa – Pros and cons, I used to spend 3 hours a day travelling to and from work, going to other offices for meetings, walking to another building. I am now spending more time working with meeting after meeting. I adapted well to home working but miss colleagues, the banter and interaction. We have been allowed to go back to the office on a case by case basis. We have an app to book space and we do COVID self-assessment, so I am seeing colleagues again but the offices are a bit of a ghost yard. I wouldn’t mind working from home forever and once a week or so go into the office for a catch up.

India – One thing I have not tried during the pandemic is the war rooms in terms of having a heavy bid to work on with a very limited timeline and 40-50 people to coordinate in a completely virtual world. The rest of it I think we are able to manage pretty well including the work-life balance.

Australia – It took me 3 hours a day or longer to get to work on public transport in Brisbane but somehow I can’t figure out why I haven’t gained 3 hours of personal time working from home – somehow that’s all been sucked up by work which is a puzzle! It’s wonderful to work from home, work-life balance has a different meaning, although I think it’s more work and not necessarily life. It’s hard because your laptop’s not far away and you have to lock your phone up at night so you don’t hear the buzzing and make it wait until morning as we need proper rest – we are not a 24/7 type of service.

What has been the impact of COVID on public sector contracts?

UK – Within the UK, the public sector had to focus on PPE, ventilators, changes to education, care services. Homeless people were taken off the streets for their own health and that of others using empty hotel accommodation. With the focus on these things and staff having to set up home working, the availability of tenders declined considerably, probably by more than 50%. That backlog is coming through, so it’s now very busy. There were a lot of direct awards made, which may have been necessary under emergency arrangements, but there are questions now being asked!

Romania – There are more bid projects than previously. More authorities understand the need for integrated systems, online communication and there is is an increase in direct acquisition as we have needs for medical and educational services.

USA – In defence and intelligence, the federal government, there was a regular pace of RFIs (Request for Information) with draft RFPs (Request for Proposals) and we responded very well to these. However, especially in the intelligence community, awards virtually stopped, so everything was going into the pipeline, with not much coming out. At the end of September 2020, the government fiscal year, suddenly everyone was making awards or they would lose their funding. There was a big surge, so it’s been a roller coaster.

South Africa – Delays in issuing and awarding, a lot of cancellations and extensions of due dates. Our National Treasury prescribes emergency procurement procedures under certain circumstances so due to COVID, there were allowances for urgent and faster procurement of critical health products. With the increase in spend and less transparency and competitive public bidding came the inevitable corruption and fraud associated with that.

India – Automation is minimal and even where automated, the administrative machinery still works the paper and pen way, so without office working, the awards including RFPs stalled in March 2020. We are now seeing some release of RFPs in the last 2-3 months, although a complete halt in terms of awards. However, I’m seeing some kind of urgency from central government to release contracts where the government has already taken a decision. Central government are the only ones with money to spend for the next year or so.

Australia – At the beginning of the pandemic, we did see a reduction in RFPs/RFIs. Understandably, government had other priorities but we’re seeing an influx now across Australia and New Zealand. Agencies who haven’t done anything for many years are releasing tenders, so state and federal government have finally found time to get something done and are starting to spend money. Business continuity and the availability of local resources are big questions, especially in ICT.

If you could change one thing about public sector bidding in your country what would it be? What do you think is one trend that’s going to be different in this decade for public sector bidding?

Romania – The one thing I would change is improving accessibility for bidders from other countries and designing a more intuitive portal interface for public sector bids. I think we will have an increased market share in direct acquisition in the medical and educational areas.

USA – The one thing I would change is the federal government’s ability to tell you when an RFP is likely to come out. They’re not trying to be non-transparent, there’s a lot of hoops to jump through but for planning purposes it would really help. What I think will be different – a tremendous amount of automation is coming from both the customer and company side. On the customer side some of the automation doesn’t evaluate proposals well and we bumped into issues but I think that’s coming.

South Africa – The change would be around transparency, evaluation results being made public. I would love open, honest, face-to-face debriefing whether we win or lose. The trend is the use of electronic procurement, an electronic reverse auction.

India – I would like to change the compulsory 3 bidders, as they postpone the RFP date until they get 3 bidders so it’s a big obstacle in closing business. The trend is more spending from government through CapEx than OpEx and it is moving to the cloud.

Australia – We need longer timelines, public sector bids are complicated, sometimes they release tenders in mid-December and ask for submission in mid-January – so over the holiday period. Trend? The public sector is going to ask more about economic continuity, social procurement, value for money. They want to spend $1 but get $2 from the service.

UK – I would like to see all bidders given all of the information that clients and incumbent providers already hold. This would truly level the playing field and remove some of the advantages of incumbency. The trend that I am already noticing is greater use of external bid specialists as in-house can get real benefits from some externals helping with both the bid win strategy and the response messaging.

With thanks to the members of the panel for a truly informative and interesting insight into Public Sector Bidding in Australia, India, Romania, South Africa, the USA and the UK.