By using the competitive-bidding process, governmental entities and other first-responder organizations seek the best deal that meet their communications needs. But bidding specifications that are too, well, specific can undermine this goal, according to Ken Palazzi, manager of the Harris RF proposal solutions group.

“I’ve seen sometimes where specifications become very narrowly focused — it’s a 200-page document, and they go down to the very specific details of information they want — and it doesn’t give manufacturers flexibility to offer choices to our customers,” Palazzi said.

Some requests for proposals are so technically specific that only one vendor realistically can bid, which reduces the customer’s purchasing options and leverage. It also can lead to accusations of favoritism at a time when increasing transparency in government is a stated objective for many elected officials.

Instead of taking an overly technical approach, entities seeking bids should focus on functional needs — an approach that allows vendors to be more creative in their proposals, Palazzi said.

“A well-defined specification would define their needs well, it would define their procurement process well, and it would define their criteria for selection well,” he said.

Other advice Palazzi would offer entities seeking bids is to gather information from as many industry sources as possible — peers, vendor and consultants — before developing an RFP.

After the RFP is released, Palazzi stressed the need for entities to give vendors ample time to respond in a thoughtful manner instead of forcing them to respond in a rushed manner. A fair process that allows vendors to clarify definitions in the proposal also is important.

Such an approach is not always practical, as it makes little economic sense to spend considerable amount of time and tens of thousands of dollars on a procurement process to get bids on an item that only costs four figures. However, for high-dollar purchases, thorough procurement planning can be a worthwhile effort, as it can establish a competitive environment that provides the entity with greater purchasing leverage — and possibly open the doors to new ideas, Palazzi said.

"In competitive offerings, it gives the customer the opportunity to see what’s out there — not only to meet their initial stated requirements but to also see what value options exist,” he said.

Indeed, options should be welcome in a public-safety communications industry that has long been driven by proprietary solutions. The key is walking the fine line between fostering a competitive bidding environment and making sure the specifications are detailed enough that the entity is assured of getting the product or system it was seeking in the process.