Bid management in the successful construction firm
General contractors navigate a complex set of business challenges—not the least of which is the bid management process.
Complex though it may be, taming the bid process is critical. Effective bid management means not only capturing more project work, but sourcing the right subcontractors to profitably complete projects.
Bid management and the software opportunity
The good news for general contractors is that there is a new opportunity for improved bid management in the form of sophisticated software tools.
It used to be that general contractors in search of bid management efficiencies were forced to contend with a hodge-podge of disconnected software tools. The difficulty associated with maintaining and passing data between multiple applications presented a significant challenge.
The advantage of today’s bid management solutions is that they leverage a single, comprehensive system to provide all of the following functionality:
- Project management
- Contact management
- Bid sourcing and submission review
- Advanced analytics
In fact, companies seeking even further functional integration have the option of selecting a construction ERP package, with bid management provided as a component of the full construction management solution.
What accounts for the popularity of bid invitation management software?
Bid invitation management solutions are proving especially popular because they help deliver 4 specific positive outcomes:
- Lower subcontractor pricing. Improved notification processes yield more bid submissions, which increases the likelihood of receiving more aggressive vendor pricing.
- Better subcontractors. The lowest priced subcontractor is not always the best option. Sourcing more choices also helps general contractors select the most qualified subcontractors.
- Reduced operating costs. Integrated bid management systems are easier to use and require less administrative overhead.
- Improved strategic decision-making. Integrated bid management software solutions provide an opportunity to gather business intelligence data that can be used to make better strategic decisions.
While you may not conceive of bid management software as a classic “project management” application, it incorporates many features from the PM playbook. Critical project management oriented features include:
- Project oriented organization: Bid management solutions are organized by projects. While each project will be subdivided into biddable tasks, a hierarchical organization structure with the project at the top level allows for the definition and application of global settings (such as identifying a project scope statement, targeted completion date, or point of contact).
- Job/activity/task definition: Activity, job, or task definitions are utilized to define each biddable unit of the project. Bid level definitions allow for the presentation of specialized information that is relevant for each job (for instance, pitch and square footage for a roofing job).
- Status tracking: Effectively managing the bid process requires monitoring the completion of various tasks. Status tracking can be utilized to keep an eye on project set-up, communication, and contract award conditions.
- Document management: Sourcing subcontractors necessitates sharing files. Document management capabilities offer storage and version control capabilities for project plans, licensing paperwork, and other related documentation.
- Access control: The ability to restrict access to schedules, definitions, and documents lets bid managers share data with varied audiences, while maintaining granular control over who sees what.
A large part of the complexity involved in bid management arises from communicating with so many different parties. In order to minimize this complexity, bid management tools provide an integrated interface for managing bid-related communication.
- Email management: Most bid management suites integrate an email client. The advantage of integrated email clients is better support for tasks like sharing email templates, associating messages with projects, and providing unified message access to multiple bid managers. Integration with Microsoft Exchange and other mail server systems is common.
- Web publishing: Publishing bid solicitations online offers a means of connecting with an expanded audience of subcontractors. Some systems offer an entirely branded and turnkey web presence to contractors interested in publishing bid opportunities. Other software options allow general contractors to add their bid solicitations to networks dedicated to bringing together GC’s and subs.
- Contact information tracking: One of the core benefits of a bid management system is the ability to build a searchable database of subcontractors. Customizable contact database fields help bid management professionals store any data they’d like about subcontractors and other contacts in a queryable manner.
- Contact import tools: Importing contact information from Outlook, Excel, and other sources offers an opportunity for data-entry time-savings.
Bid sourcing and review
Tools designed to help identify bid candidates and accurately assess the quality of proposals represent cornerstone bid management system functionalities.
- Bid target discovery tools: Bid management systems offer both internal and external tools for identifying suitable bid targets. Search tools help general contractors leverage their own database of subcontractors to find bid submission candidates. Additionally, some software systems offer access to networks of subcontractors, providing an additional means of discovering bid invitees.
- Bid submission interface: Traditionally, soliciting bids has meant a considerable amount of leg work transferring subcontractor proposals into a consolidated repository for tracking and comparison. Many online bid management solutions now offer submission portals. Utilizing a common submission interface eliminates the step of collating responses into a common format.
- Bid response filtering: Filtering tools offer the ability to surface only the bids which match definable criteria. This capability helps limit the time spent reviewing bid submissions that don’t meet the qualification requirements (such as union-status or insurance coverage).
- Vendor comparison matrix: Comparing a large set of responses can be difficult. Visual presentations of bid response data that provide a top-level comparison of proposal attributes can make the comparison process easier and more effective.
- Automated project cost roll-ups: Automated project cost roll-up calculation offers the ability to easily determine total potential vendor costs across a variety of vendor selection what-if scenarios and subcontractor combinations.
What makes for a successful bid process? To answer the question, general contractors are increasingly looking to the analytics tools available in bid management software. Business intelligence capabilities help turn the massive amount of data captured throughout the bid management process into tactical information.
- Bid portfolio tracking: Visibility into the portfolio of upcoming bids is a necessity for accurate business planning. Understanding response rates and other key status indicators across the range of bids-in-process provides the data to more accurately allocate resources and plan cash-flow.
- Automatic reporting: Recreating reports can be tedious. The ability to save report templates allows a more efficient means for staying on top of key bid tracking data.
- Bid outreach tracking: There is a direct correlation between the number of bid recipients and the ability to source more aggressive pricing and more qualified subcontractors. Simply put, the more options you have, the more likely you are to find what you are looking for. Measuring bid invitation outreach efforts provides an opportunity to understand what is working and what isn’t, when it comes to soliciting bids.
- Visual dashboards: Visual information is often easier to digest. Graphical presentations of bid management data can help executives stay up to speed on bid activity.
- Flexible report exports: While bid management systems attempt to create a comprehensive, all-in-one experience, there can be occasions where it is necessary to export data for further reporting. Most bid management products offer the ability to export reports in a variety of different formats, such as .PDF, .XLS, and .CSV.
Things to think about when considering bid management software options
The features included within each bid management program will vary—as will user interface presentations. But beyond these functional differences, there are a few other key contrasts between the available software options that bear consideration: security, platform, and integration.
- Security: Access control should represent a primary point of concern for bid management software evaluators. With multiple internal and external audiences (executives, bid managers, project managers, and subcontractors), it’s important to be able to customizably define user access control. An auditable log of program interaction will provide a forensic reporting option if the ethics involved in bid selection come into question. Buyers interested in web-based options will want to further qualify security considerations such as data encryption standards and physical data center protection. (The Cloud Security Alliance does a great job of discussing cloud security standards and is worth checking out if you are actively engaged in considering web-based software.)
- Platform: Buyers will find bid management systems available in both traditionally licensed client-server and software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployments. The benefits associated with a number of commonly provided features—web publishing of solicitation requests and access to subcontractor networks—has lead to a larger adoption rate of web-based systems.
- Integration: While bid management solutions consolidate much of the actual bid invitation and review process, there are some important potential functional integration points to consider, including: estimating, proposal management, and forecasting applications. When evaluating integration capabilities, the presence of an API indicates a solution whose developer has already paid attention to how data can be brought into and out of their software. Another option for bid management buyers looking to support functional integration is to source the software as a component of a larger, entirely integrated construction management or construction ERP solution. (General contractors considering looking to consider a wider range of functionality than just bid management, can check out our construction management software guide here.)