How relevant are today’s ISO management standards to winning tenders? Tony Zemaitis, a specialist consultant in helping organisations win tenders, provides insights from his 25 years of experience dealing with clients across various sectors.
Over the years there have been some changes in what is being asked for in pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) – a set of questions designed to help buyers select the most suitable bidders to be invited to tender.
One of the most noticeable transformations is regarding certification. Many years ago it became common to see a PQQ asking questions on quality, from BS 5750 to the modern day ISO 9001. If you did not possess it, you were then asked if you had plans to implement it. Unless your marketplace required you to hold an industry-specific certification, this was usually the only standard that was checked.
Initially there was a concern that not holding ISO 9001 would exclude you from getting through a PQQ and so be excluded from being invited to tender. However, it was rare for it to be mandatory but you would of course lose marks for not having the certification. In a competitive bid, missing a few points could mean failure, driving many organisations to seek certification.
Now holding ISO 9001 is almost taken for granted; all good suppliers are expected to have it. PQQs now also ask for Environmental and Health & Safety certificates e.g. ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001 and CHAS. Today, you will often find that more points are offered for holding Environmental and Health & Safety certificates than quality. In fact CHAS is often a mandatory requirement in public sector PQQs for construction type contracts.
Primarily the changes seem to have followed government initiatives. Seeing as so many formal tenders are from the public sector, you can understand that government, councils and alike are looking for potential suppliers who are able to demonstrate that they are being green, seeking David Cameron’s ambition of leading the “greenest Government ever”. With the health and safety culture we have today, accidents also have to be minimised, especially if they can cause bad PR.
For years, many businesses have simply answered certification questions with “in the process of obtaining certification”, even when they have no immediate intention to do so. Once this might have won some points, nowadays it does not normally get you anything unless you can show definite evidence that plans are in place e.g. an assessment date with a named assessor.
Top Tip: When you look at PQQ or tender evaluation criteria, you will normally see how each question or section is scored – very useful. So if it isn’t included in the PQQ or tender pack, ask for it!
Certifications are generally only a small part of winning a tender or getting through the PQQ. Price aside, the real key to success involves meeting all of the buyer’s requirements and demonstrating that you do it better than your competitors.
Nevertheless, gaining certifications means that you have management systems in place. The content of these management systems can be very useful when it comes to answering tender questions and providing evidence of your achievements.
For example: Continuous improvement is frequently asked about in PQQs and tenders. If you have ISO 9001 you will have a quality management system (QMS) that drives continuous improvement. Therefore, you will be able to answer how your business achieves continuous improvement and use your ISO 9001 results to show your success in doing so. The same applies to ISO 14001 where you must target and improve on green issues.
In summary, not many of our clients lose PQQs or tenders purely due to the lack of a certificate but clients that hold all of the usual certifications tend to be more successful.