Prequalifying Government Suppliers with eBid eXchange

Jul 5, 2015 by Tim Schmidt

In this article I will discuss how eBid eXchange helps all types of organizations manage vendor prequalification programs. While the focus of the article is on the Washington State Small Works Roster (SWR) program, the concepts and functionality are applicable to all organizations that want to manage a vendor prequalification program or use a list of suppliers prequalified by a third party.

Overview of Washington’s Small Works Roster

The Small Works Roster is a program used by public agencies in Washington State. It allows public agencies to select prequalified construction contractors for small construction projects without a public bidding process. This is easier for public agencies, saves time, and lowers construction costs. Agencies can create their own Small Works Roster by prequalifying contractors according to State guidelines, share a roster with another agency, or use contractors certified by third parties like MRSC. Either approach creates challenges for integrating the process into an automated procurement process.

Managing a Private Small Works Roster of Prequalified Contractors

For contractors to be on any Small Works Roster, they must meet State guidelines for licensing, insurance, and wage requirements. Contractors must provide basic information and supporting documentation during the application process that is verified by the certifying organization annually.

In addition to the hassle of advertising, collecting applications, and verifying information, agencies that maintain their own roster must continually update the roster by collecting new documentation from contractors and removing those that no longer qualify. For this reason, smaller organizations that have infrequent qualifying projects typically use third parties while larger organizations, like Clark County PUD, maintain their own.

One of the most difficult tasks in maintaining a Small Works Roster is managing the renewals. Since contractors must be certified annually, the agency must verify contractors are compliant each year. Some organizations have an open enrollment that allows contractors to apply at any time. In this case, they record the date that contractors are certified and send them reminders 30 to 60 days prior to expiration to renew their application. Contractors that do not provide the information are purged from the list. eBid eXchange has tools for managing this process including:

  • Online forms for submitting applications and supporting documentation.
  • Internal fields for tracking the application status, approval dates, and verification activities.
  • Automated reminders about expiring certifications.
  • Ability to send broadcast messages to Small Works Roster suppliers.
  • Integrated procurement system for sending solicitations and limiting bid responses to Small Works Roster contractors.

While eBid eXchange has tools for maintaining a rolling certification process, most organizations prefer to have a limited annual or semi-annual enrollment so they can batch the relevant tasks.

Using Third-Party Lists of Small Works Roster Prequalified Contractors

Using third-party lists of contractors in an automated procurement system creates its own challenges. Automated procurement systems typically require that contractors are registered in the database to track the supplier activity and control access to the solicitation. Since a significant number of contractors may not be in the database, organizations need a simple way to manage the process.

The City of Bellingham is an example of an organization that uses MRSC to prequalify Small Work Roster contractors. They wanted to use eBid eXchange for managing Small Works Roster procurements so we created special functions for managing the process. When creating a solicitation, the buyer simply pastes a list of email addresses of prequalified contractors into an invitation field. The system then automatically compares the email addresses against the company database:

  • If the address is already in the database, it adds the company to the bidders list.
  • If the address does not exist, it creates a temporary account for the company and adds it to the bidders list.

Invitations are sent to all companies on the bidders list and, if the company has a temporary account, it prompts them to complete the registration process before they can view bid documents and submit a bid. The advantages to this approach are:

  • The agency collects complete information from Small Works Roster contractors.
  • Over time, the agency will build a large database of contractors that can be invited to bid on non-SWR projects.
  • It eliminates the hassle of importing vendors, preventing duplicates and adding them to the solicitation.

In the words of Scott Moses, the City of Bellingham Procurement Manager, “[eBid eXchange] has allowed me to continue to manage the Department instead of getting bound up in the details.”

Other Types of Prequalified Supplier Programs

These concepts and capabilities are relevant to all types of prequalification programs and use of third-party supplier lists and many other eBid Systems clients have adopted them. For example, Westward Management use our system to prequalify suppliers and maintain a list of prequalified suppliers that are part of their Preferred Vendor Network. This gives them a competitive advantage in property management because their clients know that Westward Management only works with high-quality suppliers and that Westward Management uses a competitive process for sourcing materials and services for their clients’ projects. Fermilab uses many of the same functions to streamline the process for inviting suppliers qualified outside the system to respond to private solicitations and many organizations use eBid eXchange for managing diversity programs or simply prequalifying suppliers to reduce supply chain risk.