July 18, 2012
Hiring by the roster system grows
Procurement Perspectives | Stephen Bauld
Hiring consultants using a "roster system" is becoming a more common practice for government, as a standard procurement process.
The managers of individual departments across a municipal administration will usually value a fair degree of independence in being allowed to hire consultants, whom they consider best suited to their needs.
Efforts to establish some form of central control or supervision over the process are almost certain to be met with such stock responses as “we have always done it that way”.
Nevertheless, a failure to centralize can lead to the wastage of a great deal of public money.
Consulting services now comprise a major component of the overall expenditure of every major municipality and other public authority.
If this area of expenditure is to be properly controlled, it is essential to be open to new ideas: to seek out creative alternatives to old methods of acquiring such services.
A large municipality will send out hundreds of requests for quotations, tender and similar solicitations of interest for consulting services over the course of a year.
Unsuccessful bidders will soon avoid bidding for such contracts, if they do not perceive that they have a sufficient chance of winning. If the bid process were streamlined, the number of bidders might be increased, thus affording the municipality more choice. Centralization of the process facilitates a streamlining of the process.
For instance, a municipality might publish a single document for a two or three-year period, inviting consultants to qualify for work in defined fields of expertise such as design, construction management and inspection services, structural engineering and rehabilitation, environmental engineering, including waste-water treatment and environmental construction management, electrical and mechanical engineering, solid waste management, landscape architecture, and environmental laboratory testing.
Since a bid would require a consultant to submit only one application for each area of interest, all potential consultants could save on their expense of bidding for municipal work. Common criteria for assessment could be developed across the municipality to allow potential consultants to be evaluated fairly.
From the original list of applicants, an approved roster of consultants could be established. When a particular project arises for work, the contract could be awarded on a rotation basis, by competition among a select group drawn from the roster for each type of consulting work.
Such an approach would enhance competition by giving the municipality the benefit of keener competition among a wider range of consultants. It would also save both time and expense, by cutting down on advertising costs, reducing the time required to review proposals and quotations, pooling the expertise of ordering departments during the process of identifying the suppliers who are qualified for the approved roster. One of the other things to consider is the depth of expertise related to consultancy.
The mere fact that a particular consultancy has the world’s leading expert on a particular subject is no guarantee that an organization will have the benefit of that individual’s experience, should they hire that firm.
Very often, such experts are used to market services of the firm, but then actually do very little work on the files that the firm takes up.
It is essential to make sure that you are getting what you are paying for. The method of hiring consultants and evaluating their work should be more systematic and should build upon what is learned from prior experience.
The use of consultants needs to be tied clearly to a municipality’s overall strategy and priorities.
The usage must be consistent with financial constraints imposed on the municipality and as part of overall prudent management of its business and consistent with its human resource/workforce plans.
Stephen Bauld, Canada's leading expert on government procurement, is president and CEO of Purchasing Consultants International Inc. He is also the co-author of the Municipal Procurement Handbook, published by LexisNexis Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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