IT suppliers are raising questions privately about an SA Police Service (SAPS) tender, which could be worth as much as R300m, after they were given only three days to submit their bids.
The tender, issued on behalf of the police by government’s central technology organisation, the State IT Agency (Sita), is looking for bids for a complex data storage system for the Plattekloof Forensic Science Laboratory in Cape Town.
Applications closed at noon on Thursday, just three days after the request for proposals was issued, which is highly unusual, according to industry players who spoke to TechCentral on condition of anonymity. They say they’re usually given at least two weeks to respond to invitations.
The police service has, however, defended the brief window for applications, saying the project is urgent.
But with the last-minute call for quotations, some in the industry are asking questions about Sita’s procurement department.
SAPS director Musa Buthelezi says that the process to install the new system began only recently and his office was told that procurement needed to be finalised by next Monday, 20 March.
“We had the option of going through the suppliers that are preapproved by Sita, but wanted to open the tender process to the industry,” says Buthelezi. “If companies feel they can offer the right solutions, they’ll quote”.
Buthelezi says Sita indicated that the storage solutions were “critical for the forensic science laboratory” and that the quotation and implementation process needed to be “hurried for the rest of the project to be completed promptly”.
He says rather than bemoaning the lack of time to prepare and submit quotations, the “industry should appreciate that the process was opened up to them”. Part of the motivation behind this move was to “find the company with the best equipment”, whether or not that company is part of Sita’s approved vendor list.
Although industry insiders estimate the deal could be worth as much as R300m, Buthelezi says he can’t attach a value to it because it is “up to industry to tell us what this should cost”.
The final decision will be based on a combination of price and proposed delivery time, according to Buthelezi. “If a company can deliver months ahead of another but is marginally more expensive that has to be factored in.”
An industry professional, who asked not to be named because of his involvement with companies that might be offering quotations for this project, says that traditionally there are two contracts that can be used for putting IT requirements like this out to tender.
The first is the RFB153, which is predominantly meant for entry-level to mid-range undertakings. This is the contract that has been used by Sita and the SAPS in this instance. The second, the RFB595, is meant for enterprise-grade solutions.
Under the terms of RFB153, numerous companies qualify to respond to any tenders, but under the RFB595 “fewer than 10 qualify, and those are typically your large, OEM (original equipment manufacturer) companies like IBM and Hewlett-Packard”.
The source says that even in the case of R5m tenders — and the police one is far larger than that — interested parties are typically given at least two weeks to respond.
“Sita is expected to stick to government’s mandate to get the best value by buying in bulk. But it’s unlikely to get good pricing with this short notice, unless there’s a company that’s already been earmarked to provide the solution and the tender is just to cover the necessary bases.” — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
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