Consultant to End Users: Beware the Low Bidder

Some time ago, a client decided to bid out a system upgrade on his own. He took a system evaluation report that we had done for him, copied the “recommendations” section and did what was a really nice little request for proposal (RFP). He was not inexperienced in such things and felt the dollar amount didn’t justify the cost of having a consulting firm such as ours prepare a full RFP package.

He sent his RFP out to a number of local integrators, did a walkthrough, answered questions, and received bids. After comparing them as well as a non-technical person can, our client saw no reason not to award the project to the low bidder. The integrator was hired, the work was completed, and just prior to paying the integrator the client asked us to come out, inspect the work, prepare a punch list, and certify payment if everything was in order. So far, so good, right?

Wrong. Unbeknownst to the client, the low bidder was low because it cut every corner it possibly could. The integrator substituted a lower-end NVR (from the same manufacturer) and installed it. The company put 16 cameras on each of the two NVRs it provided, instead of the 32 cameras that the higher end system would have handled, leaving more cameras on our client’s old system (he was replacing the system over a multi-year budget cycle). The integrator didn’t put in enough hard drives, so retention time was too short. The installation was sloppy, wires weren’t labeled, and the whole thing looked worse after the upgrade than it did before — and it had looked pretty bad before.

We did the best we could, after the fact. We had the integrator replace the NVR’s with the model specified. We had it clean up the wiring, and program the system properly. But we couldn’t have the company do things that weren’t in the contract, so the client will have to defer some equipment purchases until a new budget year — the money was there, but after the low bid contract was signed, any excess funds went away. So, in spite of his best efforts, and doing pretty much everything right, the customer didn’t get what he wanted.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that sometimes you must beware the low bidder. Competition is good, and a competitive bid process ultimately benefits the client. But that assumes a level of honesty and integrity on the part of the integrator that isn’t always there. If you have a bidder that is prepared to cut corners and exclude essential items to keep their price down, you’d better be an expert in reading their proposal — and spotting the “gotcha.” Even the most comprehensive specification can be subverted if the bidder is prepared to bend the rules.

There’s another moral to this story, though. This same client is now doing more upgrades. They’ve learned from the last time and a consultant is involved every step of the way. Funny though, that Mr. Shady Integrator can’t seem to get on the bid list. The phone messages keep winding up in the shredder…