When Not Just Any Integrator Will Do

Finding quality security contractors to bid on projects is a challenge for most campuses. Here’s how you can ensure bidder participation so you’ll select the appropriate partner.

As a consulting company that often works with hospitals, schools and universities, our goal is to get as many qualified integrators so the process of bidding on a safety and security project is competitive and the quality level will be roughly comparable, regardless of the vendor selected.

On some projects this may be out of a campus’ or our hands. Projects that involve government dollars typically advertise, wait for responses, and evaluate them according to fairly rigid criteria. While hospital, school and university officials as well as their consultants can make some phone calls to ensure selected integrators know a project is advertised so they can respond on their own, the quantity and quality of responses is often left to chance.

Other projects task the consultant or campus official with filling a bid list, ensuring there is sufficient participation. When consultants do this, we’re representing to our campus clients that we will be able to provide them with a minimum of three thorough, competitive bids on the specified project and we’ll be able to make a recommendation from those choices.

Further, our recommended bidder will be able to complete the project as a bid, make everyone happy, and earn a reasonable profit. That last item is critical; if the integrator doesn’t make a profit on its jobs, it may not be able to stay in business long enough to support the project through the warranty period.

As a result, this bid list is a fairly serious undertaking, and as consultants we spend a lot of time working with integrators to ensure we’ll get participation on projects. Since we’re asked about this topic so frequently, I thought we’d share some of the steps we take to qualify integrators and ensure competitive bids.

Be Selective With Those You Put on Your Bid List
Keeping in mind that any integrator placed on a bid list has a chance of winning the job, we don’t want to just throw any name in the ring. If an integrator is selected for the job, you are stuck with them, so give as much thought to the bid list as you do to the final selection (see sidebar).

If you are unable to come up with enough prospective bidders to fill your list, asking for recommendations from manufacturers is often an excellent alternative. This works best when you have already selected a manufacturer, but if you haven’t settled on one, be sure to compare notes. An integrator that is on top of two manufacturers’ lists is generally a good candidate, although it would be rare to find the same company on three lists.

It’s important to get manufacturer recommendations in writing, as they can also be referred to as a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” If the integrator fails in the execution of your project, the manufacturer will generally step up to the plate and see the job through if your selection of the integrator was based in part on its referral.

Many Security Contractors Should Participate
Once you’ve filled your bid list, you need to ensure that as many integrators participate as possible. You do this first by providing a brief description of the project, including your best estimate of the time frame involved, and asking them if they’d be willing to bid on the job.

Bidding on a project is very time consuming and costly if done right, and your project may not interest everyone. Don’t take this personally; there are lots of legitimate reasons why an integrator might turn down a bid request, including workload, unfamiliarity with the specified product, or projects that fall outside its comfort zone. Integrators want to bid on jobs they feel they have a good chance of winning. If they don’t feel they have the right experience for a project and have a lot of other proposals on which they are working, they will likely pass.

Above all, integrators want a level playing field. If you have written a specification or had a consultant write it for you, you are generally in the clear. This is not the case if you’ve had help from another integrator. Many claim to have independent consulting divisions, and if that’s the case, have them put their money where their mouth is; tell them if they design the system, they are not eligible to bid on it. Even with that safeguard, other potential bidders may shy away – no one wants their competitor looking at how they bid and price projects. If the project is a design-build, let each integrator come up with its own design; don’t play favorites.

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