Upon hearing the words ‘Defence Tenders’, it’s highly likely that the first thing that springs to mind is military vehicles or weaponry of some sort.
But there’s much more to defence tenders than that; in fact, they cover a huge range of goods and services across a wide variety of industry sectors, from catering (defence personnel need to eat), to construction tenders and facilities management (defence personnel need to places to live and work), to IT/Telecoms services (defence personnel need to communicate) and leisure facilities (for that necessary downtime) to name just a few.
As a result of that huge need for goods and services, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is the UK’s single largest procurer of products and services, with a commitment to spend at least 2% of UK GDP on defence from 2015-2025. In 2017/18 alone this equated to almost £20 billion – over 40% of all UK government procurement spend. The MOD even have their own procurement portal, Defence Contracts Online – https://www.contracts.mod.uk You’ll need to register on this portal to search for defence tenders; there is also a wealth of information there regarding tendering for MOD contracts, and it is also the means through which most defence tenders are submitted.
So now you know that defence tenders cover a huge range of sectors, goods and services, and there’s a huge amount of money being spent on a large number of tenders. However, if you’re an SME you’re probably thinking this all sounds great if you’re a large company, but what chance does a small company have in bidding for a defence tender against a large organisation, one possibly already embedded in the MOD supply chain? In response to that, the MOD have stated that:
- They recognise that SMEs have a great deal to offer in terms of promoting economic growth
- They are working to help SMEs gain a greater share of defence related business by improving access to their tenders
- They want at least 25% of their procurement spend to go to SMEs by 2022.
25% of £20 billion is £5 billion. Each year. All potentially available for SMEs. Of course, the tenders relevant to your business and the profit you can make from them aren’t just going to fall into your lap without effort. Once you’ve searched the defence tenders on the MOD portal for one that fits your business, how do you go about winning it?
Firstly, despite the MOD claiming they’re making their tenders more accessible to SMEs, they’re often very technical, complex and large in size. Don’t let this put you off however, fundamentally the buying process is the same as with any other public sector buyer. Make sure you read all the tender documentation in full, so you understand exactly what the MOD is looking for, whether the tender is broken down into lots, and whether you are able to meet all the requirements. The actual submission process can be complex too so set aside the time needed to thoroughly understand the entire scope of what you need to do. Defence tenders will use specific MOD terminology, acronyms and abbreviations; make sure you use also these same terms in your response to demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the tender requirements.
Secondly, by their very nature the MOD are focussed on compliance, policies, procedures and quality. They are very risk averse and want to be confident that you have extremely robust policies and procedures, along with appropriate quality assurance and governance systems, with clear accountability throughout your organisation. Do your systems and processes have any quality assurance accreditation? Are you registered with the appropriate industry bodies? Throughout your tender response, provide the evidence that the MOD commissioners are looking for to demonstrate and assure them of your compliance. Use management information reports, logbooks, audits and use of technology (e.g. auto-flagging) as evidence to show you have fool proof systems in place that work. Describe the process you use for dealing with any problems or complaints and how you’ve learned from previous feedback to improve the quality of your defence related services. Note: If you don’t already have Cyber Essentials certification and want to start tendering for MOD contracts, you need to start working towards it. MOD policy for contracts that include the transfer of MOD identifiable information requires suppliers to possess Cyber Essentials certification before contract award. At the very least, you will need to show evidence of your progress towards Cyber Essentials certification in time for the contract start date, so get this in place as soon as possible.
Thirdly, the MOD want to be confident that your service will be up and running from day one, including all resources and staff, and that any potential risks are mitigated. Make sure you include mobilisation risk assessments and explain how your previous experience of implementing a new service will be utilised to deliver an effective and successful service this time. Your staffing structure must meet the qualifications, skill mix and service delivery requirements detailed in the specification. With the MOD focus on compliance, you’ll need to ensure you detail your recruitment compliance checks and how you obtain security clearances if needed for the contract.
Lastly, and an area where SMEs can really excel and complete with larger organisations for defence tenders, is innovation. The MOD currently have a huge emphasis on innovation in order to attract new or non-traditional suppliers, and to keep ahead of the rapidly changing global security and technology landscape. This will be a key differentiator in tender evaluation so you need to show evidence of how you can implement new capabilities quickly and how your innovative methods have been used to provide a faster service, saved your other customers money or time, or delivered better quality and value. As an SME, really focus on how being a smaller, more flexible company gives you a huge advantage over the larger corporates when it comes to innovation.