British Columbia (population 3.6 million) is implementing the largest traffic camera application in the world. When completed later this year, the system will:
Employ 30 photo radar cameras to record the image, speed and license numbers of passing vehicles;
Generate 1 million violation tickets per year (about $100 million in fines);
Decrease overall speed resulting in an estimated 9,200 fewer crashes, 4,000 fewer injuries and 50 fewer deaths;
Save an estimated $125 million per year in insurance costs and another $200 million per year in indirect social costs.
The size and potential impact of this project forced the province to re-examine fundamental procurement issues such as how to select a vendor, how to decide on the amount of private sector participation, how to outsource parts of this multi-million dollar project, and how to ensure that the selection could survive severe public scrutiny.
This article focuses on their procurement process, the specific mechanism by which the province selected a systems integrator, and how it outsourced some of the processing.
IN THE BEGINNING ...
In the four years preceding this project, British Columbia did its homework. Through the combined efforts of several agencies, officials began to learn about available tools and technologies. They attended conferences, surveyed the marketplace and identified the leading vendors; attended presentations and demonstrations; and visited sites where the systems and products being considered had already been implemented. When this was done, they ran actual tests (prototypes) on their own roads of the systems/products under consideration.
All of these activities promoted informed discussions at senior levels of government about alternative technologies, policy issues and the implications of photo radar in British Columbia. Much on-the-ground experience was obtained which would later influence the formal project planning stage.
In 1995, full-time project staff were acquired from several agencies and ministries and from outside suppliers. Program goals were established, project planning undertaken and existing systems examined to determine the scope of the changes. Dozens of people and several agencies were involved in these activities, which spanned many months. A project charter was developed and a formal project infrastructure, including Stakeholders Forum, Working Group Representatives and Key Users Group, was put in place.
In May and June, Joint Applications Development (JAD) sessions were held to review both the business processes and the technical issues. Up to 30 people, representing the various stakeholders and the affected operational areas, attended specific JAD sessions.
These sessions identified and examined eight major steps in the process:
Deployment and picture capture
Data capture, film processing, archiving
Notification of offense to registered vehicle owner
Processing of notices and violation tickets
Fines administration and adjudication system
At these JAD sessions, the stakeholders decided that the scope of this request for proposal (RFP) would be restricted to steps two, three and four; that is, the selected supplier would at most provide the cameras and the vans, process the film, and produce the notices of the offense. Furthermore, the province decided to seek a single supplier to provide all of the required equipment and systems to implement these activities. They were seeking a "turnkey" development. British Columbia was looking for a vendor or a consortium of several vendors to address the entire package -- not just cameras, not just the back-end operations, but all of the activities in steps two, three and four. The RFP was to be structured to support the evaluation of several different scenarios for processing the film and issuing the violation tickets.
DEVELOPING THE RFP
As in other jurisdictions throughout North America, British Columbia policy requires that the acquisition of goods or services be undertaken in a "visibly fair, ethical and prudent" manner. In this case, the use of a RFP was dictated not only by policy, but by the high value of the anticipated contract, by the circumstances involving the potential outsourcing of work, and by the high political profile of photo radar.
While the province had issued some general guidelines for RFPs, there was little direction for large information technology projects involving outsourcing. The use of an RFP process and the full-time services of an RFP officer would help ensure that the selection of a supplier was easily defended in the press and in the Legislature, to the public and to the losing suppliers. The project team was aware that suppliers could spend several hundred thousand dollars to develop their proposal and market their ideas. It was important that the process be seen to be fair and open to all.
In June, the project acquired the services of an RFP officer, whose sole responsibility was the quality of the RFP document and the evaluation process. This person was responsible for ensuring that the form and content of the RFP was accurate, that the RFP was easy to follow, consistent with policy and best practices, and that proposals submitted in response to the RFP would be easy to evaluate and lead to an effective solution provided by a responsible supplier.
The RFP officer and the project manager constructed the RFP in about 60 days. RFP deadlines always precipitate a flurry of activity since the RFP must contain accurate descriptions of the requirements and constraints. Often, these issues require the attention of senior executives and are sometimes not dealt with until the deadline is at hand. During this time, requirements were finalized, major tactical decisions were made, and the RFP document was approved by the Stakeholders Forum.
THE RFP PROCESS
The RFP was announced in the newspapers at the end of June, 1995. Over the next few weeks, about 60 RFPs were issued to suppliers, to politicians, to interest groups and to curious citizens. About 30 suppliers attended the bidders meeting. In August, three proposals were received. The winning proposal was from a consortium consisting of a systems integrator, a computer manufacturer, a radar camera manufacturer and a software firm specializing in photo radar systems. The resulting contract was for equipment, software, support and processing services over three years and exceeded $11 million.
The RFP dealt with all the usual administrative, project and contract issues. However, two of its features -- the project structure and the evaluation process -- were instrumental in ensuring that proposals were responsive and capable of satisfying the province's functional and contractual requirements.
The RFP described the project in terms of three objectives. Each of these objectives was, in turn, expanded into a series of sub-projects, which were described in terms of major activities. Suppliers were required to respond to each objective separately. In doing so, the province could evaluate each objective as a separate option.
The RFP stated that the objectives were to identify a responsive and responsible contractor to:
Implement speed monitoring cameras and processing systems as a "turn-key system."
Be a strategic partner.
Operate the system on behalf of the Motor Vehicle Branch, the sponsoring agency.
Each objective was then expanded into a series of subprojects. For example, objective one was expanded into seven tasks: to complete the system design; to develop and implement the system; to test the system; to modify the system; to submit the system for acceptance testing; to provide on-going support and maintenance; and to provide additional cameras and vehicles.
Further details were then provided about each task. Suppliers were instructed to construct their proposals using this same layered approach, addressing each objective, subproject and task.
EVALUATING THE PROCESS
The evaluation process was rigorous and provided for testing of the cameras by a special traffic unit. The winning proposal had the best combination of all the factors: price, functionality, project experience and corporate capabilities. In fact, it represented not the least cost solution, but the least risk.
All technical proposals were evaluated by an Evaluation Committee made up of qualified personnel including the Acceptance Testing Group and the project manager. For those proposals satisfying all of the mandatory requirements, the committee evaluated and numerically scored each proposal in accordance with the evaluation criteria described in the RFP. Pricing proposals were evaluated by a separate financial group. The committee arrived at a short-list of the top proponents, and presented those results to the project manager for review and approval. Only two suppliers were on the short-list.
Those two suppliers were scheduled for a structured oral presentation combined with field tests of their equipment. Proponents were then required to deliver their equipment to police representatives who evaluated all its technical and operational aspects. Five days were required to complete the evaluation under different road conditions.
The purpose of field tests was to permit the evaluators to identify the ease of use, ease of set-up, quality of the pictures and other indicators of the quality and functionality of their equipment and systems. At the end of the field tests, the evaluation of the two short-listed proponents was completed and the winner selected. All results of the evaluation process were extensively documented to ensure the integrity of the process and to survive public scrutiny.
Michael Asner wrote the RFP described in this article. He is also
the author of "The Request For Proposal Handbook," available from Government Technology by calling Gloria Leacox at 916/932-1300. Asner can be reached at 604/530-7881; e-mail at <email@example.com>.