Bidding Public Procurement Projects Is Now More About Professionalism Than Lowest Bid

The winning bid for public building projects is no longer the lowest bid. Outsourcing IT helps firms rise higher in the rankings for contracts for new projects.  

In 2018, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) released its first request for proposals using qualifications-based selection (QBS) for architecture and engineering services on a federal project. PSPC explains that the new selection system marks a different way of thinking about the price of architecture and engineering services. Referring to the public agencies PSPC represents the PSPC states:

“You are not a ‘customer’ buying a product off the shelf. Rather, you are hiring architectural advice and ability for a customized building or project that is not yet determined.”

For decades, professional associations representing architects and engineers in Canada and elsewhere have argued that qualifications-based selection is a superior method of procurement. For those same decades, federal procurement officers have argued that the award of contracts should be made strictly on price. But for a $32 million project replacing grating and retrofitting articulations of the boardwalk of the Alexandria Bridge connecting Ottawa and Gatineau, Public Works and Government Services Canada used the qualifications-based selection to choose a prime consultant with a supporting cast of sub-consultants to oversee the project.

IT links the parts of QBS.

Every architecture and engineering firm, of course, has its Information Technology (IT) department. IT is no longer just about installing anti-virus software and making sure terminals stay online. Architecture and engineering firms depend on their IT departments for the optimization of software essential to the mission of the firm. Whether the task is massive data aggregation or 3-D modeling, architecture and engineering firms use computing in ways that require 24/7 availability of knowledgeable technicians whose expertise extends across multiple platforms.

Constant access to high-level IT services is essential for firms involved in QBS bidding for reasons of internal security:

  • Lapses in Internet security can give competitors a back door to steal proprietary designs and confidential cost figures.
  • Corruption of data files can lead to errors in engineering and design.
  • Downtime during any bidding process is costly.

History of access to high-level IT services is also essential for firms involved in QBS bidding for their competitive edge. The quality of the firm’s information technology management affects the ability of the firm to meet the requirements of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in specific ways:

  • Data breaches affect rankings for QBS bidding. When a top-ranked firm is unable to negotiate services, expenses, fees and payment schedules with the public agency, leaks of information about costs and design to lower-ranked firms give them a competitive edge in the current project and the opportunity to establish a history for higher rankings for future projects.
  • Major breaches of data security create a disparaging note on the firm’s history and capacity to provide required services. Both information security and timeliness of work are evidence of skills and experience in project management.
  • Even ingenious design and a clear commitment to the government’s interest can be offset by lapses in reputation, loss of rapport in the professional community, and questions of technical competence.
  • The quality of IT management is not a key positive point in the firm’s Statement of Qualifications (SOQ), but deficiencies in IT management can be disqualifying. For public projects regulated by qualifications-based selection (QBS), firms are never given a chance to Request for Proposals (RFPs) if they have serious issues in their SOQ.

QBS bidding does not give architecture and engineering firms a crystal ball to predict the costs of their future services. QBS bidding is a process of creating a relationship between the PSPC and the firm to secure the best professional services, technical knowledge, and timely decision-making. IT management does not in any way substitute for architecture and engineering expertise. But architecture and engineering expertise in the modern building environment accomplish nothing without it.

Engineering experts agree that QBS avoids the pitfalls of lowest-bid and other cost-based systems. Contract awards are based on a comprehensive understanding of project scope and deliverables, including information. Bidding public projects to be awarded through qualifications-based selection will be more efficient, predictable, and profitable for architecture and engineering firms that outsource IT.