The idea for the procurement bid management platform Bidhive came from its CEO’s own pain point. Nyree McKenzie, an Australian entrepreneur, had been helping companies to prepare bids for government tenders and her clients were often using traditional paper-based and siloed systems. When developing bids, this meant they were spending a lot of energy gathering information from various sources. If they shifted to working in the cloud, McKenzie knew her clients would benefit enormously.
She envisioned one system where companies could log on and conduct market research, search for new opportunities, store important company records such as compliance certificates and team CVs, and manage bids with user-friendly dashboards that acted like “a flight tracker in an airport” for procurement teams. By automating the administrative work and streamlining their processes, businesses could have a better overview of the market and more time and resources to focus on strategies that would help them seize the best opportunities, design better proposals and win more tenders. Small businesses in particular stood to gain, with research showing they invest an estimated 6% of a contract’s value in the bidding process, compared to 2% for major contractors.
But McKenzie couldn’t find a solution on the market that was appropriate. Despite being the biggest marketplace in the world, the industry was very poorly digitized. There were plenty of point solutions that tackled a single part of the bid process, but no software that handled bid management from end-to-end and were suitable for businesses operating in multiple markets with complex bidding processes.
More winning tenders and simpler processes
If a solution didn’t exist, McKenzie decided she’d make one herself. With co-founder Aaron Godde, she launched Bidhive in 2019. The cloud-based software is now used by public sector contractors worldwide to manage their bidding processes across Australia, the US and UK markets, including the UK’s largest healthcare staffing company, the largest waste management company in the US, and a global consulting and engineering services firm. Overall, users have reported a 30-50% reduction in the time spent on administrative tasks, and up to 20% increase in win rates.
By lowering bidders’ information costs and investment risk, the service helps to boost participation in the public procurement market and allows vendors to offer more competitive prices.
“We discovered a huge process gap between opportunities held in company Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and the contract management data in their Enterprise Resource Planning systems,” says McKenzie. “By bridging the gap we’re able to bring full transparency and drive down costs across the bid lifecycle. We’re now working on predictive modelling to help bidders access intelligence and insights to make better decisions in real time.”
Open data, open tools
The platform captures and digitizes nearly 100 steps in a best practice bid management process, from identifying opportunities, to preparing bid documents and tracking the status of bids in development, as well as their outcomes. Each phase includes practical guidance and templates, and the system can be linked up to other popular cloud services like Sharepoint, Google Drive or Dropbox.
Among the platform’s features is an opportunities search engine, powered by open contracting data, that allows anyone to search open tenders and gain insights on contracting procedures from the UK, Australia’s federal government and the state of New South Wales.
All three governments publish their contracting data in a common format, the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). This standard makes it easier for developers to set up a common framework for republishing the data on their own platforms. Bidhive is one of the first sites worldwide to aggregate OCDS data from multiple markets, and the team plans to add further data sets from other countries and sub-national governments where OCDS is available.
But it wasn’t only the open data sets that the Bidhive team found useful. They also adopted two open source tools for working with the data: Kingfisher Collect (which comes with pre-built spiders and scrapers to aggregate data without having to write code) and OCDS Kit (which is useful for manipulating OCDS data).
Going for gold
Now they’ve mapped data across different jurisdictions and multiple stakeholders, McKenzie’s team has a proof of concept that they can take to governments who may wish to work collaboratively. She sees the 2032 Brisbane Olympics as a perfect opportunity, and is in talks with other vendors about how open contracting could be used by the joint agency established by the Queensland and Federal governments to deliver the Games’ infrastructure.
“We want to be able to pitch to the Olympics and say, ‘your priority is reporting and monitoring and you have 12 months to get a methodology up and running. We can get your supplier Expression of Interest register off spreadsheets and into a smarter system’.”
A major benefit of the open contracting approach is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, says McKenzie.
“The biggest pushback we hear is that people have invested so heavily into existing systems. What excites us is that we’re seeing new work and ideas coming out of the Open Contracting Partnership that you can still build these wonderful, transparent systems without overhauling or removing what you already have.”
McKenzie has big ambitions for Bidhive. There’s a Bidhive Academy with self-directed courses and other resources for bid management professionals. They have plans to integrate machine learning to help businesses navigate bid no-bid decisions (that is, whether to participate in a tender or not) and improve their performance. Each new feature is a deliberate choice, guided by McKenzie’s extensive consultations with industry members around the world, involving experts from Australia and Asia, to Europe, the UK and US.
A vendor success story
One company involved in the co-design process and one of the platform’s most successful customers is a UK-based healthcare staffing provider which was a small business when it started using Bidhive and grew rapidly to 24 brands, before being acquired by Acacium Group during the pandemic.
Since they’ve been using Bidhive, the company has secured over $200 million worth of contracts and by going digital they are producing bids in a third of the time while their win rate has increased from 50% to 70%.
When they first started with Bidhive, they had no visibility into their bidding function, says McKenzie. They didn’t know what and how many tenders they were bidding for, or what they were contributing to the bottom line. Bidhive worked with Acacium Group’s head of bids and contracts in the UK, Shaun Ford. Using Bidhive, he established a global bid center and led the bidding function through a change management process. When their team shifted to fully remote work during the pandemic, the transition was seamless because they were already using Bidhive’s system.
Acacium is now the UK’s largest healthcare staffing company. They’re also one of the fastest growing life science companies in the world, having expanded rapidly in the last 12 months, mainly through the NHS and COVID testing contracts. They’ve moved into the US market, securing contracts for rapid testing on cruise ships.
In early 2021, when they went through an acquisition, investors used the contract data in Bidhive as part of the due diligence process and were able to see the pipeline of work that they had secured and what it was worth.
Like many of Bidhive’s customers, Acacium has been subscribing to a commercial tender portal and running Bidhive in parallel to compare the integrity of its data. In Acacium’s case, they plan to retire their paid subscription this year and McKenzie expects others to follow as more governments embrace open contracting and more public data becomes available.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before we start to see open data get more traction. There’s a lot of pressure, budget-wise, and it makes financial and political sense to do so. It’s just a matter of time to bring these organisations on the journey.”