Timelines can be critically important, for both the government buyer and vendors interested in a solicitation. How much time does a competitive solicitation process take?
In any competitive solicitation process, there are two critical timelines to consider: how long do vendors have to respond to the solicitation, and how long will the Province need to announce who was successful? For vendors, these timelines can make a difference as to whether or not it’s worth responding to the solicitation (see Decision to Respond to a Solicitation for more information).
Many variables impact these timelines; there’s no ideal or common timeline that applies to all or most solicitations. For some solicitations (e.g. Invitation to Quote for goods), the entire timeline from issuing the solicitation to award could be less than two weeks. For others (e.g. Request for Proposals), the timeline from issuing to award could vary from 6 weeks to 6 months or more.
The following visual may help to understand the stages of a typical competitive solicitation process:
Time to Respond to Solicitations
The timeline between when a competitive solicitation is released to its close (i.e. the posting period) is at the sole discretion of the government buyer. Government policy states that sufficient time must be provided (see the Core Policy and Procedures Manual, 6.3.2.a.8), but “sufficient” is not defined.
Guidelines have been developed to assist the Province to determine this period of time, and trade agreements may also apply (see Sufficient Time Posting Guidelines for more information); however, government buyers may decide on longer or shorter timelines depending on the circumstances. It is important to note that there are times when trade agreements specify minimum timeframes, in which case the Province cannot post for a shorter period. Refer to Trade Agreements for more information.
Some common reasons that government buyers may allow longer timelines than recommended for responding to their solicitations include:
- An expectation that many interested vendors may have limited experience in the competitive solicitation process, and therefore may need more time to ask questions and develop quality submissions;
- The solicitation will be open over a statutory holiday or popular vacation period, such as July, August or late December;
- The solicitation document is large, with considerable information that vendors will need to understand when developing their submissions;
- The solicitation is complicated or difficult to explain, and therefore considerable vendor questions are expected;
- The solicitation asks vendors to respond to numerous requirements, and submissions are expected to be quite large; or
- Some or all of the evaluators will not be available until after a certain date.
Reasons for shorter timelines than recommended may include but are not limited to:
- The solicitation is straightforward and specific to commonly purchased goods or services;
- The sector often responds to competitive solicitations, and likely have staff or contractors that are dedicated to developing submissions;
- The requirements that vendors need to address are few, meaning that submissions are expected to be smaller;
- The Province has a firm deadline by which the goods, services or construction must begin or be complete; or
- Evaluators are not available after a certain date, and therefore the evaluation process must be complete before then.
Time Between Closing and Announcing Results
The timeline between the time that the solicitation closes and the Province announces who is successful depends on many factors. This timeline could be the same day as closing (subject to verification), or it may take several weeks to complete. Many factors influence the time required to complete evaluations and announce a successful vendor.
The following considerations will generally impact how long this process will take:
- How the award will be made: Price-Based Solicitations are usually quicker to evaluate, as the award is usually made to the lowest priced bid that meets all mandatory requirements and specifications. The lowest price may be determined the same or the next business day, although it may take longer to verify that this bid has met all requirements. Depending on how complex the specifications, verification may occur almost immediately after closing, or may require a few weeks (e.g. for complicated construction tenders).
- Number of submissions received: If the submissions are scored (see Weighted Requirements and Submission Evaluations and Debriefs for more information), the evaluation process includes a review of all submissions received that met mandatory requirements. If many submissions are received, it may take several weeks or months to complete the full evaluation process.
- Complexity of the submissions: If the solicitation document had many requirements for which vendors are to respond, submissions are likely going to be quite large – several hundred pages, in some cases. For scored solicitation processes, evaluators will require considerable time to review every submission. Even if relatively few submissions are received, the evaluation process will take some time to ensure due diligence to review each one.
- Shortlist processes: Some solicitations will include shortlist processes, such as demonstrations, interviews, or software testing. This will add time to the evaluation process, as shortlisted vendors must first be identified through the written evaluation process, dates will need to be confirmed, and the shortlist process itself will need to be evaluated.
- Availability of evaluators: Scoring submissions takes some time, as explained in Submission Evaluations and Debriefs. Most evaluators for government solicitations are government staff, who usually will continue with their usual duties and responsibilities while evaluating submissions. This may result in requiring a longer timeframe to complete the process.
- Unforeseen circumstances: Sometimes, an unplanned event can happen that impacts the evaluation process. For example, the Province can’t predict which vendors will participate in a specific solicitation until after closing or if an evaluator is in a conflict of interest with one of the vendors participating, he/she cannot continue with the process. In these cases, a replacement evaluator may be needed, which may take some time to identify.
- Timing for announcements: The Province has the discretion to announce the results of a competitive solicitation to unsuccessful vendors either before or after the contract or purchase order is executed. If finalizing the award takes some time, announcements to unsuccessful vendors may be delayed. Refer to Announcing Results for more information.
Most solicitations will include a maximum timeline that identifies how long vendors are bound to their submissions. This could be as short as 30 days (usually for straight-forward price-based solicitations) or 120-days or longer (for complex scored solicitations) after the closing date of the solicitation. If the award is not made within that timeframe, participating vendors are no longer obligated to honour their submissions. Reasons for missing the specified timeframe include the Province and successful vendor being unable to agree on the contract details, or the Province cancelling the solicitation.
Note that although this time period applies to most solicitations, some do not bind participating vendors to their submissions.
For more information on timelines, refer to section 5.5 of Responding to Government RFPs: A Proponent Guide to the Revised Request for Proposals (RFP) Corporate Template for the Government of British Columbia.