In the 1990s, with the spiraling popularity of the Internet, education
communities were eager to bring Internet access to the classroom
and to build a presence on the web. A rush to purchase hardware
and software often led to mistakes in technology choices. Since
then, many school districts and state departments of education have
developed a more systematic approach to technology procurement.
This chapter describes procedures to make sure that technology purchases,
especially for web site development, meet the needs of the agency.
In some agencies, a funding request with supporting justification is needed for every technology purchase. With solid planning, technology development and systems upgrades could become a permanent line item in the annual budget. It is more efficient when a line item for technology is included in the agency's budget. As educators develop plans to meet technology needs, policymakers should be prepared to provide a reliable funding source.
Under the best circumstances, a technology plan will guide all technology-related purchases. However, no plan can anticipate every need, so it is essential that technology budgets include some contingency funds for unanticipated purchases related to emergencies and changing technologies. In addition to emergencies, agencies need to budget for planned maintenance and upgrade of both hardware and software. For a reliable and useful network, policymakers responsible for approving the agency's budget and purchases should have a clear understanding of the total cost of ownership. Costs beyond the initial purchase cannot be an afterthought.
Technology should be an integral
part of an agency?s budget.
The Bid Process
Some people may view a public bidding process as inefficient, time-consuming,
and restrictive. However, there are several reasons why such a process
should be employed in technology purchases.
Because bidders are unaware of the price being offered by their competitors, the possibility of lower initial and continuing costs is more likely.
A properly administered public bidding process eliminates the legitimacy of complaints from vendors and citizens that purchasing decisions were made through collusion and favoritism.
The agency is able to request special combinations of products and individually designed services without having to pay for unwanted components that often come with package deals and off-the-shelf purchases.
The process can provide an objective set of purchasing criteria that will assure that the purchase supports the mission and operational needs defined in the agency's strategic and technology plans.
Bid requests may fall into any of several categories. Technical specifications are most commonly used for the purchase of specific equipment. The specifications will set a minimum standard for components, service, warranty, and other agency needs. Well-written specifications can help in standardizing the components on a network and assuring compatibility of products. Good specifications can also provide strong evidence supporting the agency's position concerning the scope and intent of the parties when a dispute arises between the agency and a vendor.
Most often, specifications will designate minimum standards for functionality and quality. Typically, they do not designate a particular brand and/or model. In some cases, the minimum standards may be set by referring to a specific model and, by using the phrase "or equal," will permit vendors with alternative products to demonstrate that their proposal will result in functionality and quality equivalent to or better than the product specified.
RFQ = Request for Qualifications
RFP = Request for Proposal
A Request for Qualifications (RFQ) is often appropriate when the agency is purchasing services (which may include some equipment) and does not yet have a specific vision of project goals and desired services. The RFQ is used when seeking specialists to help define and, perhaps, manage a project. Because the successful vendor will be assisting the agency in defining the project, it often leaves the question of pricing open to negotiation.
A Request for Proposal (RFP) may be the preferred bid document for securing goods and services when the agency has already determined the purpose and scope of a project. The RFP asks vendors to describe, or propose, how they will assist the agency in achieving its stated goals and why that vendor can provide a better service than others. In most cases, the RFP will include pricing information and may incorporate qualifications and other components found in an RFQ.
Components of Bid Requests
A good bid request defines what the agency wants to purchase with enough specificity that the comparison of equipment, services, and prices among the proposals will provide a fair and objective basis for identifying the best value and for selecting the best vendor.
Many agencies use templates as starting points for developing their bid requests. These templates can save time and energy, since some parts of different requests will be the same. A template may exist, for example, for the information needed by the local newspapers for posting the legal notice. Additionally, templates can address local and other governmental regulations. Finally, when responses to bid requests are submitted in the same format, using a template supplied by the requesting agency, it may be easier for agencies to evaluate the proposals.
After writing a bid request, the agency may want to consult with a business administrator, legal counsel, or other qualified individuals to examine it and ensure proper compliance with district, local government, state, and/or federal regulations. Many agencies have procurement personnel or business officers who can lead staff through the purchasing maze and review that process with them.