Emergency communications centers need a lot of gear. They need wireless communications systems to communicate with first responders in the field. They need call-handling systems to process 911 calls. They need computer-aided dispatch systems, as well as mapping and automatic vehicle location applications, to dispatch the appropriate emergency response. And those are just the backbone systems. The ECC technology ecosystem that enables effective emergency response is quite expansive.
There are two basic ways to acquire all of that gear: sole-source and competitive procurements. The former generally is a very bad idea, because the result is that the ECC will be stuck with proprietary solutions for years, with technology evolution occurring at the vendor’s whim—if it occurs at all. In contrast, a competitive procurement ensures the acquisition of best-of-breed solutions that will evolve based on market forces. This is the approach that ECCs need to take when they need to replace existing systems that have reached end of life—i.e., no longer are supported by the vendor—or have become obsolete.
The Heart of Competitive Procurement Process: The Request for Proposal
At the heart of the competitive procurement is the request for proposals (RFP). An RFP document has two essential components: the technical requirements and the terms and conditions. To effectively craft technical requirements, a due-diligence meeting should be held as the very first step. During this meeting, key ECC stakeholders—managers, end-users and procurement personnel—will meet with representatives from prospective vendors to exchange ideas and to ask each other questions. The idea is to gather as much pertinent information as possible—and to gain the best understanding possible—to ensure that the ECC’s needs will be met by the prospective solution.
Once the technical requirements and terms and conditions are crafted, the RFP can be issued. An evaluation team should be formed to review and score the vendor proposals. After a vendor is selected, contract negotiations can begin—this usually is handled by the ECC’s procurement personnel and attorneys.
When executed effectively, competitive procurements driven by a well-crafted RFP document will result in the acquisition of systems, equipment and services that meet the ECC’s needs. But there is a lot that can go wrong with the process. The following anecdote illustrates this point very clearly.
The typical RFP document will give respondents the opportunity to choose one of the following for each technical requirement identified, as follows:
- Complies: Respondent’s proposed solution complies with the RFP requirement and the product/service is developed and available for implementation.
- Complies Partially: Respondent’s proposed solution addresses the RFP requirement through another method that currently is developed and available for implementation.
- Complies with Future Capability: The RFP requirement will be met with a capability delivered at a future date.
- Does Not Comply: Respondent’s solution does not/cannot meet the specific RFP requirement.
Ideally, every respondent would choose “complies” for each requirement. But that rarely if ever happens because of the number of requirements. In this particular example, the RFP document contained more than 200 requirements. So, “complies partially” or “complies with future capability” are perfectly acceptable responses. The evaluation committee will weigh such responses when they review and score each proposal.
Nevertheless, things went awry with this particular solicitation during the evaluation-and-scoring process, because the ECC’s procurement manager got involved late in the project and decided that any response to a requirement other than “complies” would disqualify the proposal. The reader probably can guess what happened next—all of the vendor proposals were disqualified and the ECC’s leadership decided not to reissue the RFP.
This occurred largely because the procurement manager did not regularly attend project meetings during which the RFP document was developed. Procurement team members did attend and had no problem with the “complies partially” or “complies with future capability” responses—but they were not in alignment with their manager.
Procurement teams play an incredibly important role in the acquisition process, in part because they understand relevant local and state laws. However, they also can easily derail the process. In this case, it was paramount that the procurement manager attend the meetings that guided development of the RFP document—if not all of them, at least regularly—to ensure alignment between him/her and the team. This would have gone a long way toward preventing the 11th-hour surprise experienced by this client.
We have extensive experience in helping clients navigate the procurement process to a successful end. We welcome the opportunity to help you with your next procurement—please reach out.