Prebid Meetings and Walkthroughs

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Mar 06, 2012

Integrators who fail to take prebid meetings and walkthroughs seriously can lose the job or lose their shirt when responding to RFPs. While prebid meetings and walkthru meeting are common elements of many RFPs, some integrators may not fully understand the benefits of attending them, especially if they are not mandatory. In this note, we offer 14 tips on how the savvy integrator can make the most out of them.

Overview

These events introduce projects to interested bidders. Generally, the pre-bid meeting is a formal review of the RFP documents between the customer and interested bidders that also offers an informal opportunity to size up the customer and competition. The walkthrough is an actual walk or tour of the jobsite described in the RFP. This opportunity allows the bidder to reconcile the RFP with the actual work proposed. The walkthrough gives invaluable insight for calculating bid cost. Both events allow interested bidders to learn more about the proposed project and help clarify details that affect bid amounts.

Meeting Key Points

For the prebid meeting, the integrator should expect to gather:

  • The customer faces behind the RFP
  • If the customer is just 'kicking tires' or is ready to buy
  • Who the 'real' decision makers are
  • The competition

The customer faces behind the RFP: Understanding the individuals behind the RFP is valuable. Knowing the personality types and skillsets of the people evaluating your bid will help you structure your response. Aside from their current responsibilities, determine if any common history between your company and the customer exists. Being able to distinguish your bid based on prior experiences will help the customer make a decision during bid evaluation. While any interaction you directly have with the customer may be subject to very strict anti-collusion rules, savvy integrators will consider this information helpful during bid response.

If the customer is just 'kicking tires' or is ready to buy: Customers can abuse the process and use interested bidders to provide a hard estimates for future projects. Some customers will use an RFP process to determine budgetary expectations for a desired system. The complex nature of surveillance systems often cast doubt on guesses about the cost of a certain level of system performance. Directly asking the customer 'Is this project funded?' clarifies customer intent. While this may be awkward, the resulting answer certainly will help the integrator prioritize the opportunity against other demands of the business. 

Who the 'real' decision makers are: Understanding the group dynamic of the evalution team will help the bidder understand how best to structure the strength of the response. Some voices are louder at the evaluation table than others. If a senior accounting executive is a member of the evaulation team, then consider that describing the financial benefits of your system versus other systems could become a significant diferentiator.  Likewise, if an executive level technology manager is a member of the customer's project team, do not neglect describing the advantages your propsal has with interoperability and ease of system management.

The competition: You will not be the only interested bidder taking part in these events. Based on your previous business experiences, you will know some of the other companies in the room. You may be able to assess the types of systems they will propose based on the vendors they represent. You may be aware of how busy with existing projects they currently are and how this might affect their pricing. Even though this assessment is informal, it can carry great weight when preparing your bid. 

Walkthrough Key Points

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During the jobsite walkthrough, the integrator should expect to gather information not well explained by prebid documents. Common examples of this information are:

  • Intended fields of view for new cameras
  • Condition of existing surveillance equipment
  • Ambient lighting
  • Landscaping or architectural features that affect usability
  • Approved locations cable runways or cable tray locations
  • Length of cable runs
  • Location of fire barrier walls, or other special penetrations
  • Ceiling construction
  • Work areas requiring lifts
  • Capacity in MDF/IDF closets for additional equipment

Intended fields of view for new cameras: written descriptions are limited in illustrating what actually is intended to be seen by cameras. For example, an RFP may state: "All external domes shall be mounted so that all driveway approaches can be seen." This does almost nothing to clarify the true intention of this camera. The walkthrough is a great opportunity to ask the customer what they are 'really' interested in seeing:  

  • Are they trying to record license plates?
  • Do those requirements change at night?
  • Do they understand what will NOT be seen in the rest of the views if those cameras are focused on recording license plates?

We noted in our 'Top 4 End User Surveillance Complaints' report how end-users can easily overestimate the equipment ability. The walkthough allows clarifation of these misunderstandings through asking direct questions about the intended camera field of views.

Condition of existing surveillance equipment: If the RFP details operation between existing systems, sometimes the responsibility for fixing broken equipment falls to 'whoever touched it last'.  Making sure you understand function before bidding will help avoid losing money because the underlying equipment was faulty. 

The ability of your solution to integrate with existing equipment can also drive significant cost. The customer may have an incomplete understanding of how difficult this might be, especially since overstating the utility of API/SDK is common among vendors.  Confirming your VMS or IP cameras can operate with other systems is an important detail. The walkthough permits you to place your own eyes on existing equipment. Understanding the full cost impact of working with existing equipment can best be determined during the walkthrough.

Ambient lighting: Another 'Top 4 End User Surveillance Complaint' was camera performance in low lighting. This situation, along with detailed wide dynamic constraints, are rarely documented in the RFP. The RFP may insist on a level of camera performance that might cause you to specify additional equipment like illuminators or shades. Consider taking light readings to confirm this situation affects your bid number.

Landscaping or architectural features that affect usability: Trees, hedges and building features often impede surveillance and they are often overlooked in RFPs. Thinking in 3 dimensions is a challenge when looking only at floorplans when laying out camera locations. The walkthrough allows the bidder to assess mounting locations or techniques that bring the best result.

Approved locations of cable runways, conduit, or cable tray locations: Understanding where these items are located can affect the length of cable estimated for the job. If a facility has existing cable trays or conduit, confirm there is enough room for new cable. These types of details can significantly impact bid cost but are seldom documented sufficently in RFP documents.

Length of cable runs:  The RFP might not acknowledge the length limitation of specific types of cable, especially if the work describes a greenfield project. Walking the job will allow the bidder to see the physical distances involved and determine where extra equipment is needed.

Location of fire barrier walls and handling penetrations:  Understanding where architectural firewalls are located are important, so that they are avoided when running cabling or estimated to be penetrated and firestopped properly.

Some customers may have blanket policies forbidding a penetration in fire-rated walls. Others may not realize the restricition and leave it unaddressed entirely in RFP documents. Again, walking the job will allow the bidder to evaluate how these features impact to cost of the bid.

Ceiling construction: Hard panel ceilings require more effort to run cabling than 'drop tile' ceilings. If cabling must be 'fished' overhead, or if access to cable pulls are restricted, this dramatically affects labor effort. Some facilities, especially older buildings, may have a mixed type of ceiling construction in different parts of the facility. Making sure this detail is noted during a walkthrough will help the bidder avoid losing money based on bad assumptions.

Work areas requiring lifts: During walkthrough, the bidder should take special note of how installers will access work areas. As we discussed in our 'Work Lifts Examined' update, this is more than just a question of height. The job may require work for long periods of time above ground. Spending money on a lift will improve worker efficentcy and comfort but will significantly affect cost. The walkthrough will help determine where lifts should be used.

Capacity in MDF/IDF closets for additional equipment: The bidder should confirm that open ports are available for new equipment. If new equipment is required, confirm that enough rack space and utilities are available to add new devices. 

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