Bid Specs--Bad For Churches

Continuing on our series on Bid Specs, today we’ll talk about why I think they are bad for churches as well as integrators. We’ve already talked about why I think Bid Specs are problematic in a generic sense, and how they are a challenge for integrators. One might be tempted to think that I’m writing this from a selfish perspective. I do work for an integrator, after all, and if Bid Specs are bad for integrators, it stands to reason that I don’t like them.

But here’s the thing; I’ve worked for churches approximately 5 times longer than I’ve worked for an integrator. And I’ve been leading build projects as a volunteer or staff member for about 12 times longer than I’ve been an integrator. I’ve also helped other churches with their projects, so I’ve seen this from all sides. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a good way to go, even for the church that is looking for the “best deal.” Here’s why.

Unrealistic Budgets

As previously mentioned, Bid Specs suffer from being either too broad or too specific. Or both simultaneously. In either case, the integrator will hedge his bets so he’s not left holding the bag when the project is finally properly defined. Other integrators will bid low to get the job, figuring they can change order their way back to profitability as the project evolves. Either way, the church is looking at budgets that are either too low or too high. 

Again, there is not necessarily malice on the part of the integrators here. While there may be a few out there looking to make a quick buck, most are honorable people who like serving the Church. But given the inherent flaws in the Bid Spec process, it’s almost impossible to do so well. 

You’re Paying Too Much

I would be willing to bet that most times when a church does a Bid Spec, they end up paying too much. How is this possible when the whole idea is to get the best deal? Think back over all the problems we discussed: The specs aren’t accurate, the equipment list came from Church Production Magazine, over bidding, under bidding, generic designs. All of these things will lead to a higher cost in the end. 

Moreover, it’s likely that the church issuing the Bid Spec is not very well versed on the current state of technology. They may be unaware of newer equipment that is less expensive that will work very well for their application. As a result, they may be spending a lot more paying for the “old standard” while missing out on some newer winners. Every industry has manufacturers and products that fall into the category of, “You can get more but you can’t pay more.” But, with heavy marketing dollars and a good reputation, those are often the products that show up in the Bid Spec.

Lack of Customization

Good integrators pride themselves on delivering solutions that are designed for each client. They may work with packages of gear they’ve standardized on because they know it works, but it will be selected and placed for the specific church in question. A Bid Spec usually eliminates that. Because there is no real design going on, the bid tends to end up in the place of, “We’re pretty sure this will all work OK, and it’s basically what you asked for.” 

I’m not going to be proud of a system like that, and ultimately, the church won’t be as happy as they should be. Sure, it could be better than the 15 year old system they have—that was likely Bid Spec’d—but it’s not the ideal solution. 

Overall, there’s not a lot to love about the Bid Spec process. I cringe whenever I’m asked to do one, because I know that no one really wins. Sure, we may get the job, and the church may get a bunch of new gear, but do we really all come away feeling good about it? That’s the process we’ll talk about next time: A Better Way.

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Bid Specs--Challenging for Integrators

We’ve been talking about Bid Specs. Last time, I talked about some of the problems with Bid Specs in general; they are often too broad, too narrow (sometimes at the same time), and they tend to be light on design. It is my belief that generally speaking, Bid Spec projects are less than ideal, both for the church and for integrators. Next time I’ll share why I think it’s not good for the church, but today, we’ll focus on why integrators don’t love Bid Specs.

Over Bidding

One of the challenges for an integrator when faced with a Bid Spec is the tendency to over-bid the project. That’s because there isn’t enough detail in the spec, and in order to protect themselves, they’ll pad the project. It’s not (typically) an attempt to over-charge the church; it’s simply that there are too many unknowns, and as the job develops, costs are going to go up. And often, the church wants to hold the provider to the budget they submitted, the integrator ends up eating the cost. 

Keep in mind, this bid was what I call “best guess.” Based on the very limited information in the spec, we take our best guess at what might work. Of course, the downside to overbidding a Bid Spec job is that another firm will take a different approach.

Under Bidding

Many times, the point of the Bid Spec is for the church to get the best deal. If you’ve read this website for any length of time, you know I’ve talked a lot about the difference between a good deal and the best price. The two are often not the same. Since we know the church wants the best price, some companies will bid low, figuring they can change order the job up as it develops. 

Of course, the down side to this is that if the church refuses the change orders and demands the integrator honor their original bid—which was based on an incomplete document, remember—the integrator eats the cost. That’s not a good business model for the long term. 

Generic Design

Most integrators like to be proud of their work. They want each project, no matter how big or small, to be one that they could take prospective clients to and show off. Another challenge of a Bid Spec is that it forces integrators to use generic designs. They make take a PA from one project, a video system from another and a lighting system from a third. Those could be fine designs in and of themselves, but do they really fit the church in question? Is the equipment, the layout and functionality really what the church needs? It’s hard to say; it’s our best guess. 

Best Guess, Mr. Sulu

I don’t remember which Star Trek movie it was, but Captain Kirk asked Sulu to plot a course somewhere. The ship had suffered damage and the computer wasn’t working right. When Sulu pointed this out, Kirk’s response was, “Best guess, Mr. Sulu.” 

I’ve used that phrase a lot in this series, and you’ll keep seeing it. When we’re working on a Bid Spec, you’re getting the integrator’s best guess. Now, if they’re a good integrator, that may be pretty solid. It may get you in the ballpark. However, do you want the best guess, or do you want the best system they can design for you? A near miss or spot on target? Some churches rationalize that even a “best guess” is better than what they have now; but what if that’s only because the current system was also a best guess?

Personally, when I’m working on a project, I take great pride in getting the details right. Details that make the system just the right system for that church. Sometimes those details are similar among systems, but often, it’s the way the whole thing is put together that takes it from good to great. 

Hopefully I’ve made a good case for why I think Bid Specs are not great for integrators. Next time, I’ll talk about why I think they are not good for churches, either.

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The Challenge of Bid Specs

One of the things we deal with in the integration world is the illustrious Bid Spec. A Bid Spec is a document a church will send out when looking to get quotes on an AVL project. I can’t say this with certainty, but I would guess this originated in the construction industry, and made its way over to AVL projects. In both industries, they are problematic. Over the next few posts I’m going to talk about what a Bid Spec is, and identify some of the problems it creates for not only integrators, but churches as well. I’ve been watching churches doing Bid Specs for a number of years now, and it never seems to work out well. 

Too Broad

One of the challenges of a Bid Spec is that it tends to be too broad. I’ve seen line items that say, “Upgrade speaker system in sanctuary.” Yeah, um, that’s helpful. Especially when there’s no detail on the sanctuary in question. Or the type of worship service that happens there. Or the sound the church is going for. Or the budget they have to work with. So basically, that gives us no information to work with to make an intelligent recommendation. What’s an integrator to do? All we can do is guess. And how much is a guess worth? 

Too Specific

I’ve also seen Bid Specs where everything is too specific. Sometimes we get both too broad and too specific in the same document. Occasionally I’ve become convinced that the Bid Spec committee (and it’s always a committee) just grabbed a bunch of issues of Church Production Magazine and listed all the gear they saw in said issues. 

Now, there may be nothing wrong with the gear listed. But does it all work together? Will it deliver the results they are after? What are those results, by the way? When I get these Bid Specs, I can price it out, and usually I’m thinking the whole time, “This makes no sense, but here you go.” 

Light On Design

Now, before I go any further, I should mention that I’m not talking about Bid Specs that are released after the church hires a firm to do a full design of the system. Those can actually work out OK. It’s not my favorite way to do a project, but at least there is a design that we’re working with. 

No, I’m talking about the Bid Specs the churches do themselves. And in those, there is no design. And chances are, you’re not going to get any design from the integrators you send the spec to. The reason is simple; it’s a bid. Most of us are busy enough that we’re not going to do a bunch of free design work that may either A) be ignored because someone else is chosen for the project, or B) given to another company to fulfill. 

At best, on a Bid Spec like that, you’ll get pieces and parts of systems that were designed for other projects, that are likely to work together, but may or may not deliver the results you want. Like I said, it’s a guess, based on limited information. 

Sometimes, we’ll see Bid Specs that say they know there’s not enough information here to do a full design, but give us a bid anyway, and we’ll choose one, then have you do it again after meetings and site surveys. So basically, the church will choose a company based on radically different proposals—because there’s no common design—and then ask the chosen company design the system, to the same budget, of course. Again, it’s not a wise way to go about it. 

I’ll get to some better ways to go about this process in later posts, but next time, I’ll talk about why Bid Specs are challenging for integrators. Then we’ll see why they’re challenging for churches. Stay tuned…

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