spicy comment on nuts and bolts procurement issues
by Michael Asner
Speaking of BAFOgab
The problem … the RFP process is flawed. Buyers issue Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that often provide a distorted, incomplete or inaccurate description of the problem - not their intention, but the result of different people trying to describe a complex requirement or a difficult problem. And buyers may not have sufficient insight or knowledge of potential solutions to articulate the critical details well. Suppliers take this information, interpret it within their experience and develop their proposals.
It is fundamental to our RFP process that suppliers can't revise their proposals; evaluators can only evaluate submitted material. Evaluators hate it. Of six proposals received, perhaps only three may be close to the mark. Suppliers hate it. "Had we known more details and understood the buyers' reasons, we would have proposed a different solution," they say.
Our evaluation process attempts to compensate by basing the award on a combination of factors; not simply least cost, best project management plan or best technical solution. The winning proposal may not represent the best value, but can be the one with the fewest "holes," ambiguities and weak sections - awarded based on least apparent risk.
There is a procurement strategy - Best and Final Offer (BAFO) or Best and Final Proposal - that permits buyers to get revised proposals from vendors. While rarely used in Canada, British Columbia used it a few times in the mid-to-late '90s for IT procurements and the City of Mississauga has used it infrequently. In the US, it is used in many jurisdictions, always with rigid controls. The concern is that all suppliers be treated fairly and that no information be transmitted to one supplier about the other suppliers' offers.
Julian Isitt of the BC Purchasing Commission says, "... the process is intensive for both suppliers and owners. It is vital that any information communicated between receipt of the initial and final offers be in writing and made part of the procurement record and, further, that any such information flow be in accordance with a protocol incorporated within the RFP. The success of the model depends on high degrees of expertise in all of the following: the business area that is the subject of the solicitation, the law of competitive bidding ... and the procurement process."
Here's how BAFO works. The RFP contains language that defines the rules and the process. Evaluators short-list the proposals capable of delivering the required results. Finalists are provided detailed questions related to their proposals or informed of areas that are deficient and given the opportunity to improve their original proposal. Amended sections are then re-evaluated and re-scored according to the evaluation process defined in the RFP.
The State of Massachusetts used BAFO when: the pricing was too high; when the prices offered by bidders were difficult to compare and they wanted a different price presentation; to clarify confusing proposals; and to assist the decision-making process by providing more information to differentiate between bidders.
BAFOs have not been tested by our courts but, as a result of twenty years of Contract A cases, we have a well-developed set of practices that prescribe the RFP process and the rules for determining the winning bid. Any RFP invoking BAFO must describe the process and the rules.
In my opinion, we should adopt BAFOs as a procurement strategy - define the "rules of the game" and take advantage of the learning that occurs during the current RFP process.
Best and Final Proposals (as defined in a BC RFP)
The Province may establish a closing date and time for the submission of the best and final proposals. The best and final proposals will be submitted only once; however, the Province may make a determination, in its sole discretion, that it is in the Province's best interest to conduct additional discussions or clarifications of the best and final proposals. Otherwise, no discussion of or changes to the best and final proposals will be allowed prior to selection of the proposal or proposals deemed to be the most advantageous to the Province.
The Province may engage in discussions with one or more of the short-listed proponents to:
Michael Asner ( firstname.lastname@example.org ), based in Vancouver, is internationally recognized as a procurement expert. He authors The RFP Report, published in Canada and the US, is a regular columnist in Reseller magazine, a Sacramento-based publication, and has authored several books on procurement including The Request for Proposal Handbook and Selling To Government. He recently launched www.proposalsthatwin.com and www.proposalworks.com.