Why Can't I eTender with Excel?
"Why can't I eTender with Excel?"
We take a look at a question that is often asked and explain why we think Excel is not suitable in this instance.
As we travel around talking to Quantity Surveyors and Estimators throughout the UK and abroad we are amazed at how often we are asked this question. Perhaps we should not be surprised as this simply backs up the findings if the eTendering survey that we conducted in 2009 which found that of the 91% who had attempted eTendering 75% had done so using Excel.
Before we consider the reasons why we believe that the most universally used spreadsheet software and the files it produces are unsuitable for eTendering we must start by agreeing what we mean by the term eTendering.
Masterbill started providing its first eTendering solution almost 20 years ago back in 1992 when we produced a system called “Tender by Disk” to accompany our QS Elite DOS system and from that time until now we have always believed that eTendering centred upon the issuing, pricing and returning of a tender document normally a Bill of Quantities. In recent years others have tried to suggest that eTendering is about the distribution of the Tender Documents including Specifications, Drawings, the Form of Tender and sometimes the Bills of Quantities, but as Quantity Surveyors we believe that the largest time and cost savings can be achieved by focusing on the electronic distribution, pricing and returning of the primary priced document – the Bill of Quantities. Hence during the last 20 years we have strived to concentrate on the essential and not get bogged down with the peripheral in order to solve questions like “Where shall I upload the drawings?”, “How can I comply with my organisations Tender Opening procedures?” and “How do I select the companies to place on my Tender list?”
So having defined eTendering as the electronic distribution, pricing and returning of the primary priced document let us address the question of why Excel is unsuitable for the task.
Reason 1 – The tender document can be changed.
The whole purpose of Tendering is to ask several companies to provide prices for the same items to enable comparison on a like for like basis and hence select the best tenderer to carry out the works. If a tenderer is able to alter or change the contents of the tender document, whether that be the description or the quantity, it becomes impossible to obtain the comparable tenders we sought, and makes the selection process extremely difficult. If we seek to distribute an Excel file to the Tenderers for pricing and are willing to accept an excel file back with the prices inserted then we run the risk that the contents of this file may have been changed and hence may provide a price based upon different criteria to that we requested and submitted by others.
Whilst it is possible to ‘lock’ or ‘protect’ parts of an Excel spreadsheet to prevent editing there are a number of ways to sidestep this protection from the simple copying of the contents to another file to the more complicated ‘security cracks’ that can be readily found on the Internet. If we wish to ensure the integrity of the returned Excel file then we almost have no option but to check every item it includes back against the original document. This exercise was recently undertaken by one of our customers only to discover that the tenderer had tried to alter priceable items in order to substitute both alternative specifications and quantities to those stipulated in the original document and hence was tendering on a different basis to everyone else.
If we are to avoid this time consuming, costly, boring and unnecessary task then we have to find an alternative to Excel.
Reason 2 – Tender return and comparison
Surely the primary objective of Tendering is to enable us to obtain and compare prices and where better to do that in our Quantity Surveying software, hence it not only desirable but surely essential that we are able to import submitted prices back into our chosen system against the correct original items for comparison and analysis.
Unfortunately this becomes virtually impossible if we adopt Excel as our eTendering solution, it only needs one additional row to be inserted for everything to go wrong and require the Quantity Surveyor or Estimator to resort to the manual checking we mention above. We recently met with a major developer in the Middle East who had a team of six QS’s working flat out for six weeks in order to ensure they were comparing tenders submitted on a single project on a like for like basis – a huge drain on resources when you consider that they had issued the tender document in the first place!
So it is for these simple reasons that we believe Excel is not, and cannot be, a suitable format for eTendering and this is why we have continued to invest in providing an eTendering system that addresses not only these issues but also provides QS’s and Estimators alike with the benefits that eTendering has promised for so long.