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SMEs In The Field

by msecadm4921

Caroline Demoulpied, Group Commercial Director for Equinox Security Management, writes that SMEs can have a large part to play in your choice of security contractor and how the procurement process can put all tenderers on a level playing field.

In the current climate, security has an essential role to play in protecting our safety, assets and ultimately our freedom to go about our daily lives but in spite of this, increasingly procurement protocols have overtaken the contractor selection process. Very often, the decision to appoint a security contractor will focus on just two issues, size of the contractor and price, losing sight of the actual service offering and benefit that the tenderer can deliver and how that company will become a valuable contributor to the end user’s business. The increasing trend in this can and will have a detrimental effect on the security market place, leading to dominance by a few large companies that will ultimately reduce competition and could eventually lead to market stagnation.

SME businesses make up a large part of the private security sector. As one of these SMEs, we have often heard the comment, ‘you might talk like a big security company, but you are actually only a small business’. We always question why this comparison and distinction needs to be made. Surely, a contractor should be judged on their ability, offering and credentials, not by an unfair and subjective viewpoint? SMEs should be equally valued for their contributions to the market place, often characterised by agility, flexibility and innovation. Equinox proudly hold our place in the top five per cent of all ACS Approved Companies, alongside some of the so-called ‘big boys’ of our industry. However, this has not been achieved by simply ‘talking like a big company’. It has been achieved by looking at how flexible our business can be, how responsive and proactive we need to be and how we can stay constantly ahead of our game.

It is important to note that small businesses create and support jobs both directly and indirectly, offering increased value to the economy of the UK. In addition, they may offer overall better value for money, through a better quality of service, innovation and responsiveness. An SME can often respond more quickly to changes in technology and/or develop new service offerings to differentiate themselves from bigger market players. In addition, the reduced management levels can mean greater flexibility and a more bespoke, personal level of service, which provides enhanced responsiveness, with the supplier being better placed to deliver rapid commercial solutions.

Therefore, the way that end users go about procuring a security service can significantly increase the chances of SMEs competing on a level playing field and prove to the end user that they are a viable alternative to the large national and often international companies. With any service provision, there are no tangible, visual items to review and no set way to confirm whether the service you will get is fit for purpose. A service is an abstract entity that relies upon rhetoric and promises with regard to service delivery excellence. So how can you view all tenderers on an equal playing field? There needs to be a succinct tender specification document that clearly outlines each component part of the expected requirements of the contract. To achieve this, you need to ask yourself and prospective security providers, via the invitation to tender, the following questions:

1. How do the skills and professionalism of the contracting company complement and strengthen the security function?

2. Is the contractor management fully accountable for the service delivered and is this measured via a Service Level Agreement?

3. Is the Service Level Agreement specific, measurable, accurate, and objective?

4. What standard and level of training and continuous professional development is provided?

5. How does the potential contractor look after its employees’ welfare?

6. Has the contractor got robust IT systems to support the service delivery and management team?

7. What about cultural fit? How agile is the contractor, how flexible, how innovative? Will their service be tailored to your needs?

8. How important is your contract to them?

The invitation to tender (ITT) should also confirm details such as the full scope of services, quality of staff, the level of involvement from the management, operational requirements, exact format requirements for the tender submission, terms and conditions that will apply, cost factors and any company policies, issues or systems that must be incorporated into the contract.

In addition, a site briefing should always be conducted. The briefing gives tendering companies an opportunity to discuss the specification and tailor it if they feel necessary, enabling the client to evaluate the contractors’ expertise and then benefit from it. The site briefing also gives you a chance to reiterate the salient aspects of how the tender bid should be formatted. Once requirements have been categorised in this way, it is then up to the contractor to ensure that they comply exactly with the format and information required in the bid specification. Most security contractors have generic tender response documents. However, we believe it is vital to read the bid specification in detail and ensure that the response complies with the individual requirements of the potential client. We ensure that all questions are answered robustly and clearly, in chronological order and with supporting information to validate our ability to conform to the specified service levels and contractual requirements. These are important points that the client should look for when evaluating the response to the ITT. After all, if a contractor cannot follow specific instructions on how to complete a document how will they fair in achieving the desired partnership?

A formal bid should always be supplemented by a presentation, where once again, the client gives specific instructions to the contractor on what elements of the tender bid they wish to explore in more detail. This also gives both parties the opportunity to test their thinking and resolve any outstanding questions. However, a word of caution on presentations: – do not be lulled into a false sense of security by slick sales persons and the latest, state of the art presentation technologies. Will this ‘razzmatazz’ really translate into you receiving the best possible service? Take the hi-tech out of the equation and look instead at the people. After all, the presentation should be about cultural fit, getting to know the team who will live, eat and breath your contract, do you trust them, do you have a mutual understanding and empathy, can you actually work with them and are the people at the presentation the team who will drive the success of your contract ? After all, how many sales persons do you see after you have awarded the contract?

The final component of the process is to take references. This may seem like stating the obvious, but have you asked for references from current clients of the potential contractor that actually mirror your requirement? Very often tenderers have to give three references in support of their bid; however there is no requirement to align these to the specific need in question. This is especially pertinent if you have a smaller contract. You need to make sure that your chosen provider will see your contract as an integral part of their business and give your contract as much time and effort as a large, multi site volume based assignment. So always ask for specific references that mirror your needs.

This system can also operate for larger contracts. As there is a constant drive for greater efficiency in procurement, practice has sometimes led to some small contracts being replaced by fewer larger and longer contracts. These larger style contracts can bring benefits, sometimes in better value, but also in reduced procurement and contract management costs, with single points of contact when problems arise, and a closer working relationship with the supplier. However, larger contracts do not always deliver better value for money, and those involved in such a decision making process need to ask themselves a number of questions.

•Are there elements best left outside the main contract?
•Is it really a good idea to place all the work with one supplier – for example, would there be advantages in dividing it into lots, perhaps with regional suppliers, or looking at Framework Agreements? Framework Agreements can ensure equality of treatment for all potential suppliers irrespective of their size and give you the optimum number of suppliers necessary to deliver the benefits of aggregation without eliminating choice and competition
•Will having a number of regional, smaller companies foster a competitive edge into the contract, rather than the potential for one contractor to become complacent?
•If new requirements may subsequently fall within the scope of the contract, is it practical to reserve the right to source this separately?
•Where there is a propensity to choose one prime contractor, is there an opportunity to encourage an effective supply chain relationship with SMEs by that prime contractor, either for specialist areas or by geographical position?

After the tender process has concluded and the decision has been made, there is one vital part left to do, giving feedback to the bidders. Certainly our experience indicates that when we have been unsuccessful on a bid feedback has either not been provided or is not particularly helpful. Similarly when a bid is successful, the reasons why it was successful are just as important. Constructive feedback on both the positive and negative aspects of a bid, and not just the pricing element, will go a long way to help SMEs refine their bidding processes in the knowledge of where the bid was both strongest and weakest. If these processes are followed, they will hopefully enable those SMEs offering overall best value for money to secure contracts and keep the economy of not just the security sector vibrant, but contribute to the overall success of the UK economy.

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