Market Research and Notifications

Following is general guidance on how to research the market and to use BC Bid for notifying vendors of direct awards or other information of interest.  However, ministries may have their own approved templates and/or differing processes from the templates and guidance provided below.  Refer to the ministry links at the right or contact the ministry’s Procurement Specialist prior to using the corporate templates and processes described here.

Often, ministries aren’t able to develop comprehensive requirements for the goods and services that they intend to buy, either because they don’t have the in-house expertise needed or because what’s currently available in the market place is not known.  Alternately, a ministry may know what it wants to buy, but isn’t sure how much market interest may exist, or assumes that only one vendor is qualified and available.  The market research tools identified can allow vendors to provide their input while avoiding conflicts of interest and perceptions of bias.

Notifications can be used to either ensure that no other vendor is capable for an opportunity prior to a direct award, or to provide information of general interest to a specific sector or group of vendors.

Market research opportunities and notifications, as described below, are not to be used to evaluate, rank or award any goods or services to any vendor who responds.  However, ministries may have approved ministry-specific templates that have the same or similar titles but that are used differently.  Do not confuse the ministry-specific templates and processes with the corporate templates and processes described here.

 

Request for Information (RFI)

If insufficient information exists to develop specific requirements on what to buy, do not contact a single vendor to ask what’s needed or recommended.  Doing this may create a conflict of interest for that vendor, meaning that they should not be responding to any competition that results.  An individual or organization cannot be involved in the development of the requirements of a competitive solicitation and also respond to that solicitation – this is inherently unfair to all other vendors who were not given the same opportunity to provide input into the requirements.  Speaking to only one vendor when developing requirements may also create a conflict of interest for the ministry, as it may result in a perception that the ministry may give preferential treatment to this vendor over other bidders / proponents / respondents.

Ministries can either select a contractor through an appropriate solicitation method to help develop the requirements (with the caveat that this contractor cannot respond to or help anyone else to respond to the subsequent competition), or issue a Request for Information (RFI).

The RFI is intended to solicit feedback from multiple vendors without creating a conflict of interest because it is posted on BC Bid, allowing any interested vendor the opportunity to respond.

Ministries may ask for whatever information may be needed to make decisions about what to buy – or even to decide not to buy at all.  The RFI can include a request for high-level budget information, provided the document is clear that it is not seeking bids but rather information to inform budget decisions.

Ministries are under no obligation to use all information received from all vendors participating in the RFI process.  The ministry can decide what information received is more relevant to the current situation, or which options are more desirable.  This is true even if the requirements developed from the information gathered pursuant to the RFI may favour one or more vendors; however, in this case be sure to clearly document the rational for the decisions made.

A corporate RFI template is available that contains language to make it clear that it is an information-seeking process that will not result in an award.  This ensures that unintended legal obligations are not created, and that the ministry can use the information received however it decides.

Ministries are under no obligation to issue a subsequent solicitation that will result in an award.  Sometimes, the information received from the RFI leads a ministry to explore other options or to cancel the project.

If a subsequent solicitation is issued, it should be posted on BC Bid and anyone should be eligible to respond, whether or not they responded to the RFI.  Vendors will be motivated to respond to the RFI even knowing that it does not impact their eligibility later, as they want to provide input into what the Province may ultimately purchase.

RFIs should be posted on BC Bid for a minimum of 15 business days (i.e. three weeks), to ensure that all interested vendors have sufficient time to respond with any information they feel is pertinent to the ministry’s needs.  If the RFI is requesting detailed information, consider posting it for a longer period.

 

Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI)

The RFEI is issued on BC Bid to determine who may be interested in supplying the Province with particular goods and/or services.  This information can be very helpful in planning the subsequent solicitation process.

RFEIs should state clearly what the Province intends to buy, but should only request vendors to provide minimal information – their name, contact information, and a brief description of their interest should be enough.  Most vendors will also provide marketing materials, but this information should not be used to rank or evaluate vendors.

A corporate RFEI template exists that contains language to make it clear that it is an information-seeking process that will not result in an award.  This ensures that unintended legal obligations are not created.

RFEIs should be posted for a minimum of 10 business days, to give all interested vendors sufficient time to see the opportunity.

If many responses are received to the RFEI, consider the following for the subsequent competition:

  • Including mandatory requirements that allows only those vendors with robust and/or specific experience or qualifications to respond;
  • Adding weighted requirements that are quite specific to what is needed with minimum scores; and/or
  • Issuing a Request for Qualifications to qualify a manageable number of vendors, and limiting the subsequent competition to only the qualified suppliers (i.e. a two-part RFQ followed by an RFP, SRFP, ITQ, or ITQS).

If only one response is received, the ministry may have evidence that a direct award is appropriate as only one vendor appears to be interested and available.  In this case, the ministry should meet with the vendor to be sure of a shared understanding of and the vendor’s ability to meet the requirements.  However, if only one response is received and a direct award is considered, the RFEI results do not replace the requirement to issue a Notice of Intent (see below).

No matter what results from the RFEI, ministries are under no obligation to issue a subsequent competition.  

 

Notice of Intent (NOI)

When a ministry feels that only one vendor is qualified and available to provide the goods or services required, the ministry must prove this (see the Core Policy and Procedures Manual, section 6.3.3.a.1) before making a direct award.  An example of such proof would be documentation from a manufacturer stating that one vendor only is authorized to service existing equipment.  However, this level of proof often does not exist.  In this case, the ministry must issue a Notice of Intent (NOI) on BC Bid if the value is $10,000 or more for goods or $50,000 or more for services (see the Core Policy and Procedures Manual, sections 6.3.2.b.5 and 6.3.2.c.7).

If the opportunity is under the applicable threshold, a NOI is not required. However, ministries should document what they did to find out if more than one vendor was qualified and available (e.g. internet searches, phone calls to vendors, discussions with other ministries and jurisdictions, etc.).  Alternately, a ministry could post a NOI even though the opportunity is below the applicable threshold. 

The NOI tells vendors of the ministry’s intent to negotiate with a named vendor without a competitive process. If other potentially qualified vendors exist, they can challenge the NOI in order to have the opportunity competed.

Although no corporate template is currently available for the NOI, the ministry’s Procurement Specialists or Procurement Services are available to help. NOIs should include:

  • The vendor’s name;
  • A brief description of the goods and/or services;
  • The amount of the proposed contract or purchase order;
  • The term (i.e. the start and end dates) of the proposed contract (if applicable), including any options to renew;
  • The reason for the proposed direct award;
  • The criteria that will be used to determine the success of any challenges received; and
  • Contact information for any questions or challenges.

When developing the criteria that will be used to determine the success of any challenges, consider the following:

  • Is delivery of the goods and/or services needed by a particular date which does not give sufficient time for a competitive solicitation?
  • Are the criteria for challenges objective, or could they be perceived as unnecessarily restrictive and narrow?
  • Can experience from another jurisdiction be used to challenge the direct award, or could the NOI be interpreted to mean that only vendors who have worked with the Province or the ministry before are eligible for the contract or purchase order? 

If a challenge to a NOI is received, the ministry should meet with the vendor submitting the challenge.  The purpose of the meeting is to determine whether or not the vendor who challenged can legitimately meet the ministry’s requirements.  The ministry should provide the vendor with additional information about the opportunity at this meeting, and the vendor should be given the opportunity to describe how their experience and abilities meets what the ministry requires.  The ministry decides whether or not the challenge is substantiated. 

If the challenge is substantiated, the opportunity must be competed.  If the vendor withdraws their challenge, this withdrawal should be received in writing (e.g. an email).  If the ministry decides that the challenge was not substantiated, the reasons why should be well documented and provided to the vendor who challenged.  In any of these circumstances, inform the vendor intended for the direct award the results of any challenges received on the NOI.

An NOI is not intended as a mechanism to bypass the competitive selection process, rather it is intended to support open and transparent procurement processes.  When using a NOI, ministries must be prepared to compete the opportunity if a successful challenge is received.

NOIs should be posted on BC Bid for a minimum of 10 calendar days, but two weeks may be more appropriate to ensure that anyone interested has an opportunity to see the posting.

NOIs are specific to proving that only one vendor is interested and capable of providing the goods and/or service, and is not required when different direct award criteria apply.

See NOI frequently asked questions for more information.

 

Notice to Vendors (NTV)

BC Bid can be used to post Notices to Vendors (NTVs), which are general announcements or information that may be of interest to vendors.

Examples of NTVs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Informing vendors of upcoming plans for a specific program;
  • Informing vendors of an upcoming solicitation for a specific program or contract in order to give them time to prepare;
  • Inviting vendors to an informational meeting or community consultation;
  • Advertising vendor training;
  • Inviting vendors to provide feedback on a ministry program or process; and
  • Posting draft solicitation documents in order to receive feedback from vendors.

NTVs are not a policy requirement, but can be very helpful to demonstrate the Province’s transparency and to inform vendors of anything they may find of interest.  

Contact the ministry’s Procurement Specialist or Procurement Services for any questions regarding NTVs.