When dollars rule and schools use price to select technology integrators, they may not get what they expect. Low-bid selection of technology integrators, required for many schools, is by its structure confrontational. Schools have little choice but to contract with integrators that submit the lowest qualified bid. If schools wanted to receive the best value for their dollars, they would use only qualification-based selection for integrator teams — those with a track record of producing specification-based bids.

Taxpayers are demanding more accountability for technology funds. Many institutions are finding that the cabling and hardware they bought a few years ago can't support today's more advanced applications.

Evaluating bids involves much more than identifying the lowest bidder. Determining whether bids are “comparable” requires more than just reviewing numbers. The evaluation must consider the bidder's references, experience, and compliance with state and local requirements.

Writing sound specifications is critical. One must start with a clear definition of bidder qualifications, such as the amount of experience in school work, and on projects of similar size and scope. A school should gather enough information about the bidder to determine whether the bidder will be able to complete the work and deliver the equipment specified, and if the bidder is an authorized reseller for any of the equipment. Ask for references on a bidder's three most recent projects.

Bid documents should itemize each product or service to be provided and the cost. This is the heart of the bid and may be done in a couple of ways. The first method is to describe a standard that equipment must meet. For example, a school might specify a data switch that supports 1000-BaseSX Gigaspeed ports with RJ-45 connectors. The second method is to specify a proprietary item — by brand name and model number — especially if a school has standardized on a particular product. Development along proprietary lines is a simple way to develop a bid specification, and as long as multiple suppliers can furnish the item, the bid process is not compromised.

Once product standards have been set, bid specifications can be closed. This means that only the exact product requested should be provided — no substitutions. In other cases, schools may want to allow multiple options from which the bidder can choose. Or a school may want to specify “or equivalent,” which lets a bidder provide an alternative item that meets the same standards as the items specified.

No matter which method a school chooses for determining specifications, it should require that bidders provide a unit price for each item, quantities provided, manufacturer and model numbers, and the total extension for each line of the bid.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at bday@kbdplanning.com. www.kbdplanning.com