Regional Municipality of York: Compliant bids save time & money
The Regional Municipality of York stretches north from Toronto to Lake Simcoe. Its diversity is evident in its nine local municipalities. Local government is organized in a two-tier structure. Public transit, water treatment, major sewage lines, forestry, major construction projects and more are handled by York Region, while things like curb-side garbage collection, local parks, and libraries are the responsibility of each municipality. The Regional Council has representation from each municipality.
Spend a day in most procurement offices and it’s quickly apparent that the process is manual, time-consuming, and beleaguered by stacks and stacks of paper, spreadsheets and binder clips. This was the situation for the Regional Municipality of York’s procurement department.
Tenders were photocopied and put on the procurement office counter for vendors to pick up daily. Vendors visited the office to pay by cash or cheque. The Region’s clerks documented their contact details in a binder noting their time of pick-up and used this information to mail them addenda.
There were massive amounts of paperwork, and a lot of steps for the clerks to navigate: wrapping up drawings, printing and couriering documents. There was also a lot of room for error because the process was so manual. One job could have 30 or 40 drawings. We used to fill up a room for some of the large construction projects. It was like the dark ages, but it was also the norm at that time for any public entity.
Procurement staff created a summary sheet of the successful bids each day for the public opening. After the winning bids were announced, award letters were created and mailed to the successful bidders. Many bids were disqualified because of missing information or calculation errors, and these required letters to be mailed to each recipient explaining the rationale for disqualification.
A better way
In 2011, the Region was actively seeking a solution that would simplify its bids and tenders process. They wanted an efficient, end-to-end solution that was paperless, would lower costs, and reduce the risk of errors.
It was around this time that Mike Gerrior, Purchasing Manager for the Region, discovered that the Town of Milton was piloting a new bids&tenders solution. He asked if he could see a demo.
I really felt like it addressed the challenges that we were experiencing with our process. I was particularly impressed by how flexible it was and that it could be customized to our needs. It wasn’t expensive, and the vendor wanted to work directly with procurement professionals so it was good for the industry overall. I still have that comfort level that when we purchased bids&tenders, we were purchasing more than software. We were gaining a partner in our business that was willing to work with us to make things better.
bids&tenders has had proven digital results since 2004. There are over 60 organizations nationwide with bids&tenders. bids&tenders is the result of procurement professionals from 30 municipalities coming together to discuss common challenges and brainstorming solutions to make the process simpler for both vendors and procurement departments.
In 2011, the Regional Municipality of York launched its first phase of bids&tenders. This allowed the Region to post its bid advertisements and documents publicly. Vendors could register, make payments online and download bid opportunities. When it came time to submit bids, vendors would come into the Region’s office and drop them off.
With this first phase, the Region saw benefits. Less paper was being printed. They had a database of vendors in a secure system, and many were taking advantage of the online payment process. Vendors began asking when the Region was going to offer a fully online system. It seemed like a natural next step.
In 2015, the Region implemented a more robust solution with a comprehensive eBidding module that handles electronic bonding submissions. Vendors are guided through a step-by-step process, and can upload a copy of their digital bid bond (authenticated by a third-party such as Mobile Bonds, Xenex Enterprises Inc. or other Ontario Surety provider). Instructions for accessing authentication are included with the submitted bond and vendors indicate that it meets the Digital Bond Criteria. Vendors can submit other required documentation such as insurance and WSIB certificates, as required.
Submissions are auto ranked and a summary sheet is generated automatically. Notifications of the successful bidder are sent within moments of the bid closing. Award letters can be emailed automatically or customized as needed. Vendors also have the opportunity to select the types of bids that interest them to receive automatic updates when opportunities arise.
Mitigate risk & reduce errors
Some construction bids have hundreds of unit prices to enter, tally and calculate. Other projects require multiple signatures or bid bonds, and all require acknowledgement of addenda. If any of these are missing, the submission is disqualified. The potential for errors is immense.
Before bids&tenders, procurement clerks had to manually check every unit price, calculation, and submission to ensure they were complete and correct. This could take up to three weeks for some of the larger projects.
Now with bids&tenders, the Region receives bids that are on time and compliant. A compliancy checker notifies vendors of any errors or missing information during the submission process. Costs are automatically calculated saving time and ensuring accuracy. The solution encourages transparency of the Region’s procurement process from bid posting to awarding the contract, and maintains a full audit trail (submission and withdrawal times, addenda receipts and more). Bidders receive notifications if there are new addenda even after they have submitted. Since bids must be compliant to be submitted, the need for review committee meetings has been reduced for the Region, and good candidates are not being disqualified due to manual errors.
bids&tenders provides a full audit trail and complies with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA); and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) requirements. The system is hosted in a secure Tier 3 Data Fortress with 24 x 365 monitoring with full backup power conditioning in the case of a disaster.
bids&tenders is essentially fool-proof and eliminates all of the major things that could go wrong for a vendor during the submission. It’s a win-win situation for us and our vendors. The process is transparent and fair for all involved.
Before bids&tenders, the Region would have to reject bids that were not compliant – even if these bids were the lowest. Going to the second lowest bid could mean an increase of over a million dollars for some of the large projects. Since bids&tenders ensures submissions are compliant, the Region is confident that taxpayers are getting the best services for the best price.
The cost of getting bids&tenders up and running is low. The return on investment is very fast. We’ve realized cost savings very quickly and vendors love it.
Time is money. Since implementing bids&tenders, the Regional Municipality of York now processes a bid from beginning to end in 25% of the time that it used to take. Calculations and compliancy checks are automated. The costs for paper, copying, printing, couriering, postage, fuel, and warehouse storage have all been reduced significantly.
With bids&tenders, we reduced wasted staff hours, costs, time, our carbon footprint, the possibility for errors, bid review issues, inaccessibility worries and risk. I only wish that we had implemented it sooner.
bids&tenders with eBidding schedules bid postings and closings; publishes bid documents; sends out email notifications, meetings times and addenda; and collects insurance documents, eBonds, payments and submissions all without printing a single page.
With bids&tenders, vendors register to submit bids and receive automatic reminder notifications for bid opportunities, posted addenda, submission deadlines and meeting dates. Bidders can withdraw and amend bids in advance of the closing date from anywhere right up to the closing time. They are also notified of tender changes.
bids&tenders has changed our corporate culture. We’re asking ‘what if’ a lot more and thinking of ways of making other processes in our organization more efficient. Now when I see workflows that require 90% of the same information or that require signatures from multiple people, I think about how it can be automated to save time, resources and money. This is all because of the success of bids&tenders in our organization – our first low hanging fruit that has been immensely rewarding and successful.