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Talis Aspire

Tenders – The Good, the bad, and the ugly

Paul Dibble

Now that the new academic year is underway, thoughts will start to turn to the next round of budget and business case planning for new services. In most cases, projects taken forward are likely to need services and products sourced from commercial suppliers and third parties. Which all leads to the dreaded procurement process which, more often than not, will be some form of formal procurement or tendering process. In this post, we thought we would round up some lessons we have learnt and our version of best practice.

A good process has great potential to lead to long-lasting and mutually beneficial partnerships, a poor process is expensive (in the widest sense of the word) for all involved and can lead to poor decisions, ill-fitting services and poor relationships. As a supplier, we at Talis have been involved in a wide range of procurement processes and have experienced both ends of the spectrum, from the very best to the very worse. 

Do you really know what you want?

Sounds basic, of course, you do, but systems are becoming increasingly complex and powerful. Make sure you talk to all the potential suppliers before your tender. Invite us in for a discussion and demonstration.

  • Perhaps our systems can do more than you thought, are these relevant to you? Could they provide even more value? 
  • With systems developing so quick don’t assume what you saw 12 months ago is up to date. Is there something new coming down the line?

Suppliers are also partners that want to provide relevant, successful services/systems, we can only do this by talking to you.

Is tendering the best way forward?

We all know that tendering is a very costly process for all parties – procurement, the library, contracts teams and suppliers. Of course, sometimes legal obligations mean it is the route you need to take, but here are some things to think about:

  • Is there any supplier that is providing a unique solution? If there is no competition, why enter into a long expensive process?
  • How do competing offerings compare – they may have similar titles ‘on the tin’ but will all be different and some deemed unsuitable early on.

Are you buying more than one system?

In our sector, we are seeing the purchase of a “resource list’ type solutions becoming part of a wider Integrated Library System (ILS) and Discovery service tender. Is this always the best way forward? On the face of it, it seems to make some sense, perhaps ensuring system compatibility and cutting the costs of procurement. However, talking to a UK Library Director recently they regretted the decision to bundle the system in one tender, citing that the project became very complex and has reduced their flexibility in the future (e.g. if they wanted to change one element of the package). 

In our experience tenders of this nature can be very difficult for a supplier like Talis to apply for effectively and, on a practical level, the tenders are very complex to complete. The best practice we have seen is to, at least, make the different system separate ‘lots’ with clear instructions about how to complete, especially for any shared requirements documents.

So you’ve evaluated the market, spoken with the potential suppliers and compiled your requirements and now must tender. 

What do we think makes a great tender?

  • When it is not a surprise – try to give us some heads-up and likely timing ahead of publication.
  • Provide clear instructions, including what documents need completing.
  • Clear timelines, with realistic timeframes. As they usually need input and discussion across the business, the more time we have for this the better our bid can be and you get more information to help you make a decision…
  • Try to make supplier qualification questionnaires and security/privacy questionnaires as relevant and ‘lite’ as possible (If only they were all the same!). Of course, you need this information, and these may be standard across your institution, but we have seen examples that take longer to complete than the actual tender (almost!).
  • Provide as much information as you can about how you are scoring the tender and be transparent, it really helps us to plan our response accordingly.
  • Relative weighting information. We often see this at very broad section level: price, functionality etc, but the best tenders go down to question level.
  • The flagging of requirements as “Mandatory”, “preferred”, “optional” is always useful and good to see, but in reality, it is often more nuanced than this, so try to be as flexible and realistic as possible. Is that mandatory requirement really something that has to look the way you have described it? There are often many ways to solve problems. In theory, if we see a “Mandatory requirement” and can’t meet it, there is almost no point in submitting a bid. 
  • Careful thought about how you weight the softer areas of the system, such as support, product development, expertise, community, training, system robustness. These will make a very real difference to the overall success of your project.
  • An appropriate format for the response documents you are asking us to complete. These can range from MS Word, MS Excel, Online, PDF and any combination of these, and others! In our experience MS Excel type documents usually work fine for the financials, but can be really difficult to work with for longer descriptive answers, I don’t want to think about how much time just goes into getting responses formatted within response documents (extending/merging, pasting….) and the more time we spend doing the admin the less we spend on the bid.
  • A mechanism for providing further information. It is often necessary/beneficial for suppliers to be able to supplement their responses with screenshots and/or extended answers, perhaps even screencasts and videos, so ensure that there is a recognised mechanism for this, or better still ensure the format of the response document negates the need for this.
  • Thought through terms and conditions or draft contracts that reflect the nature of the services to be provided and a clear mechanism for tenderers to comment on these. 

Once the bid has been placed we (suppliers) sit back with a sigh of relief, have a cup of tea, and wait nervously for the result. Just a couple of thoughts here:

  • Try to keep to your timelines and if the decision is going to be delayed, let us know. I am sure you don’t want all suppliers constantly asking for updates.
  • If requesting a demo/discussion session let us know as much information as possible, as soon as possible, especially: the format, how much time we have, which bits of the system you want to see. Do you have any scenarios you want us to follow? Who will be at the session? What facilities will be available (projector, wifi etc)?
  • Once the result is published, win or lose, we really value the opportunity to learn from the process, so offer your suppliers a full debriefing. What did they do well, and where they could improve, both on the details of the bid and the quality/structure of the submission.

So, there you have it, my thoughts on tendering, glad to get that off my chest! But, in all seriousness, tendering is here to stay and an important mechanism for ensuring fairness and value. If we can work together to improve, the process can benefit everyone involved and lead to many years of happy partnership.

If you’d like to find out more about what Talis Aspire can offer, or would like a demo, drop me an email at

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