Andrew Benson, Deputy General Manager, strives to make his council easy to deal with and, to date, he’s had plenty of success with the council’s procurement activities.
Benson and around 50 staff operate with a Council budget of around $12 million per year for the local government area, which has a population of around 6,000 people. Approximately 60% of Council spend is on infrastructure, especially maintaining and upgrading the area’s 862 km of roads and 152 bridges.
Benson recalls the moment he knew there had to be a better way: when the council’s procurement practices were severely tested by a major bridge tender coinciding with the quarterly rates cycle.
Reflecting on the “bad old days”, Benson notes that the process was totally manual and not very user-friendly.
“We’d start with a comprehensive advertisement in the Hobart Mercury, which invited tenderers to register their interest with Council. When someone called, our staff had to take their details, put that in a spreadsheet and then send off the RFT, location plans and policy documents. It sounds simple but, unfortunately, when this tender was released, the rates had just gone out and it was a very, very busy time for the admin folk.” Andrew Benson, Deputy General Manager, Southern Midlands Council
Clearing the way to the solution
Benson’s search for a better way led him to TenderLink BDM, Dean Armstrong, who “came down and provided a show-and-tell to everyone in our organisation responsible for purchasing, together with a number of adjoining councils”.
Southern Midlands Council uses the TenderLink system for its bigger projects and is now starting to use it for smaller ones, also. While the council still advertises its tenders in the local newspaper, it now places much smaller and cheaper ads, saving around $200 each time.
The tender-specific online forum has also delivered indirect savings, with Benson noting that contractors “tend to pad their bids whenever there is uncertainty”.
However, using the TenderLink forum functionality, bidders are encouraged to seek clarification about any aspects of any project and the responses are shared with everyone who has expressed an interest in submitting a bid.
Bridging the problem
Bringing the tender process online has also improved transparency and probity, helping to avoid procedural misunderstandings. Benson cites examples of bidders who technically missed the submission deadline because their documents had not fully loaded on time. Because the whole process is conducted online, the council was able to access TenderLink’s activity logs and see that the bidders had started the upload before deadline, with the key information within the Tender Form of the RFT being uploaded and accepted the bids.
The move to online tendering has also uncovered additional suppliers who might not have been aware of Southern Midlands’ needs. “Since using TenderLink, we’ve had bids from further afield, because TenderLink automatically emails our notices to all its suppliers in that space - they don’t have to search for it. This has helped us build a wider catchment of potential contractors”, says Benson.
Benson lists transparency and efficiency as the main benefits. “It takes less staff time to administer this process than previously. Not only did the old way take a lot of time, it was extremely frustrating.”
Over time, Benson hopes to move more council purchasing activity into the TenderLink system, as he is convinced that the benefits should be spread to other areas of expenditure - even to the council’s commodity purchases.
“I’ve built a good solid history with the projects I manage to encourage the rest of the organisation to utilise the TenderLink system more. We can’t afford not to be using this system. It’s efficient, effective and transparent.” Andrew Benson, Deputy General Manager, Southern Midlands Council
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