By Karla Wursthorn
The last 20 years have seen many changes in technology, including electronic documents and email. Remember when bid day packets contained a pre-printed tablet for taking phone bids from subcontractors?
Then, the biggest worry was making sure the correct figure was written down and enough questions were asked to ensure the scope of work was complete. Gradually, phoned-in bids were replaced by the fax machine -- an amazing improvement in speed! And the fax machine allowed for more detailed information to be conveyed. A few annoying quirks of the machine included the fax not going through, or the faxed bid mysteriously getting lost at the GC/CM’s office (ie. getting stapled to someone else’s fax). These problems were typically overcome by additional fax machines to handle the bid day load or dedicated estimating fax machines.
Although email has been in common use for well over a decade, it’s only been in the last few years that bids started being transmitted by email. The common availability of scanning devices and PDF-writing software has made emailed bids very simple - even for the computer novice. Just two years ago, I would typically only get a handful of emailed bids whereas in the last year almost 95% of subcontractor bids have been transmitted via email.
With the advent of any new technology, there are always a few quirks that still need to be worked out. Here are just some of the problems that may be encountered with emailed bids:
• The email did not go through. Typically a return message will come back alerting the sender of this problem, but sometimes the message is delayed by hours or even days.
• The email was sent to a junk mail folder. For example, for a recent bid I received no less than ten bids in my junk mail folder within one hour of bid time.
• The quote was sent with no letterhead, company identification or phone number. No kidding! The only way to identify the bidder was to send another email asking who they were!
• The email was received and sent to the centralized printer where it either got lost, jammed, or stuck in the print queue.
• The bid was mistakenly emailed to someone else. In several cases, subcontractors emailed bids to our president or a project manager for whom they had an email address, unaware that they would not be present on bid day.
The effect of emailed bids means that a dedicated person must constantly be vigilant of the inbox and junk mail box. This person must be, in effect, the printer for the hundreds of bids that arrive (unlike the faxed bid which rolls off the machine automatically). Worse yet is when the sender emails bids with.numerous attachments – each with several pages. Opening and printing each attachment takes precious time away from bid evaluation and analysis
The unfortunate result of the above problems can be that a low bid is received too late or not at all, which not only puts the GC/CM bid in jeopardy, but also is a lost opportunity for the subcontractor. Unfortunately, instructions on the Invitation to Bid are often overlooked. Different companies will find different solutions to these problems, but we all need to be cognizant of the pitfalls of emailed bids.
On the bright side, emailed bids do enable proposals to be transmitted in a pristine form which can be stored in a file for future use and shared with multiple users quickly. In addition, using email does correct many of the problems of the fax machine. The main point to consider for subcontractors is to ensure they are sending bids in the format requested by the GC/CM (typically PDF) and be sure to send only to the contact person listed on the bid invitation (since it cannot be assumed that someone else will be present on bid day).
I would also recommend putting the bid on electronic letterhead which includes all the contact information, including estimator’s name, phone, fax and address. Another good idea would be the consistent industry use of standardized email setups. This would enable GC/CM’s to send invitations to companies at estimating@XYZcompany.com without constantly updating their e-mail database each time an estimator leaves a company.
Likewise, bids@XYZcompany.com provides for a convenient place to send bid proposals.
Notwithstanding the above issues, I believe the benefits of emailed bids outweigh the disadvantages when used prudently.
A previous version of this story appeared in American Society of Professional Estimators’ “Estimating Today”. It is reprinted with permission.
The American Society of Professional Estimators serves construction estimators by providing education, fellowship, and opportunity for professional development. For more information visit www.aspenational.org
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