I want to explore Construction e-procurement on behalf of consultants and contractors and hopefully provide some useful tips to make full use of it. The first type is a register or database which provides you with the opportunity to get on to a Buyers List through a pre qualification process. These lists can be beneficial to both suppliers and buyers.Examples of this type of portal include Constructionline, Exor Management Services and Achilles.
The second type of e-procurement is linked to a monthly payment and provides suppliers with specific projects which are advertised through their web portal. You set the criteria and they provide the leads. When payment is made you have access to these leads via a username and password. They can be quite expensive but generally provide the consultant or contractor with helpful intelligence for their marketing efforts.
These services include well known names like Barbour ABI, Glenigan and Builders’ Conference, along with perhaps some lesser known names such as BIP, SupplyContracts, QSL, Dot Gov Supplies and Services, Contractsfinder (Businesslink),and In-Tendhost. These other companies are no less effective and focus on the number of Public Sector Buyers using their portals. They also remind us about Government targets to award 30% of all tenders to SMEs. Please bear in mind that these will not all be construction related.
There are some portals which provide limited geographical coverage, free of charge and are usually linked to a Local Authority. These require an initial Q and A format with the promise of email alerts when projects are advertised. There are others but space does not permit and I need to move on.
What do you need?
It is vital that construction companies learn to understand and work with e-procurement and make these ‘tools’ part of their marketing activity. It is now part and parcel of Construction Procurement. However, I do not think you should go out and subscribe to any of these without first testing them. There are probably many of you who have given up on me by now, but please be patient.
I know many people who have no time for these registers complaining that they have done nothing for their company.Their main complaints include being too expensive, too time consuming, no return on their investment and they are mainly for the large national companies. Why should I even think about using these so called portals? The answer is simple. These portals are not magical and will not increase your enquiry levels without your input as a business owner!
The maze of procurement portals can be time consuming to monitor. The key question is where does a firm start the process and is it beneficial to register with all of these sites? It may be helpful to read through the PAS91 2010 for an overview of changing practices. I personally think we need some radical changes in this whole area of procurement but that is for another day.
Here are some key points to remember when signing up for these procurement platforms.
1. Why are you registering? Some Builders and Architects believe that by signing up they will automatically receive tender enquiries. No! No! No! In my experience this has not been the case. However, if you work for an organization such as a Local Authority and they require accreditation then sign up. If you are not working for an organization first do your homework. Call them and ask how many other Architects/Builders are on their list? I have a client who has never registered for Constructionline simply because it suits their Profile. They have never needed to, so they don’t!
2. Check who Their Clients are: My client was told that by subscribing to one of these portals he would have access to a number of large organizations who would buy his services. The cost to him was several hundreds of pounds. He, wisely wanted to know what he was getting for his money. So we tested the procurement companies offer.
I suggested to him that I would call these organizations to find out how they procure their construction services. Personally, I think that many of these larger organizations waste money because they duplicate services but, I can understand why they use these procurement vehicles. It makes life easier for them.
I called these companies who were registered with this Provider (no names) and received the following responses. We do not procure construction services through X. We already have a Framework Agreement for consultants in place. We carry out that particular service in house. We use X and have a Framework Consultant in place but our other department uses another procurement vehicle Y and you should speak to them. No enquiries or work would come through this accreditation. So, the moral of the story here is do your homework first before buying.
3. Signed up, paid up and waiting! Again, which ever procurement portal you are registered with, be proactive. Find out who is looking at your profile. Construction firms tell me that they receive nothing from Constructionline. You may be ‘fit to supply’ but who is looking at your Profile. Here are some key actions to take.
Go in to your Profile panel and check you have completed all the relevant Questions. Ensure that your Health and Safety, Environmental, References (all categories) and Equal Opportunities details are up to date and correct. My colleague was telling me that his client had been to a meeting with a NHS Trust and they were very keen to appoint them on a project. However, when some time elapsed he called the Trust to find out when the tender documents would be sent. His response is a wake up call to check our details are right. “Oh! we were going to appoint you but couldn’t find your name on Constructionline so you were excluded.” My colleague confirmed the name of the practice and the Estates Manager was surprised because he couldn’t find it due to the first name of the practice being spelt wrongly on the Profile. This may be an extreme case but it serves to remind of the pitfalls.
Have a look at your Enquiries List and contact those companies listed. The Hit List is generated by broad buying criteria whilst Enquiries are more targetted. When contacting these organizations you will be told, if you are on Constructionline or Exor you are already on their list of contractors/consultants. They will send out tenders on a rotation basis. Don’t be put off by this – so are 50/60 other firms on the list. Get your company details to the relevant person within the organization and then call back once they have had time to review them. Then carry out your pitch.
4. When Companies offer you Leads I often get calls from companies offering to supply me with project leads and in particular within the Public Sector. They go on to tell me just how many Buyers are using their portal to find the right supplier. Most of these leads are advertised through the OJEU and can be accessed FREE of charge by registering on TED. Others tell me that they will supply leads free of charge in my geographical area. Sounds great, but, my advice is be slow to purchase these leads! Rather, do your homework and find out if what is being offered suits your business. I am not saying don’t ever buy leads but rather research the offer before you make a buying decision. Some lead generators are great if you sell pens, chairs, bricks, cement or other products but if you are looking for a school extension to build or design that is another story.
5. Put in the Work Is it worth signing up for these procurement portals that Local Authorities have on their websites? You will need to test these for yourself to find out. I have registered with a number of them and with each new project there is yet another PQQ to complete. And we want these to be standardized don’t we? You can read my ranting on PQQs in an earlier post. Even if you are unsuccessful on a project contact the buyer and get feedback. It will prove useful for next time. It is not a perfect science but we can move forward by using these tools rather than complaining about them.