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Responding to an approach to market

Can any business respond to an Australian Government Approach to Market (ATM)?

For an open approach to market (ATM), any business that considers it has the potential to provide the required goods and / or services could respond to the ATM.

For a purchase valued below $80,000 (or $400,000 for specific entities), the Australian Government organisation may invite only a limited number of potential suppliers to respond to the ATM.

For a purchase from a standing offer, the Australian Government organisation may choose to invite one or more businesses that are appointed to that standing offer to respond to the ATM.

If you are approached directly to provide a response to a limited tender, the information included in this section will still be valuable in informing your response to this request and understanding what Australian Government buyers are looking for when they assess responses.

My business is interested in responding to an ATM. What do I have to do?

You will need to prepare a response that complies with the ATM documentation. You will find some information about the typical contents of an ATM in the section below.

You must prepare and submit your response by the specified date and time, to the specified location and in the specified format (for example electronically or a certain number of printed copies) that will be outlined in the ATM documentation.

Given the time and effort involved in preparing a response to an ATM, and meeting any minimum requirements, it is good practice to ensure that you are sufficiently prepared and understand the process, and common requirements, before an opportunity you are interested in tendering for is published.

What is typically contained in an ATM?

Approach to market documents will usually include some, if not all, of the elements summarised in the table below.

ATM content

What does that mean?

A description of the procurement

The request document describes the goods or services being procured. The description should include:

  • the nature and scope of work (statement of requirement)
  • the deliverables or expected outcomes
  • any technical specifications, e.g., performance and functional requirements
  • any need for installation, training, support, or maintenance
  • timeframes for delivery of the goods or services
  • any options for extension or additional work.

 

Conditions for participation

The conditions for participation are the minimum requirements you must meet to be considered for the work. If you do not meet these minimum standards, your tender will not be considered. Australian Government organisations include these to make sure you have the legal, financial, technical and / or commercial capabilities to deliver the contract.

Some examples are:

  • relevant licenses or professional accreditations
  • ability to meet security requirements
  • minimum workplace health and safety standards
  • minimum levels of insurance or financial resources
  • prior experience or a specific capability.

Further information on common minimum requirements is included in the Frequently Asked Questions – Minimum requirements section of this website.

 

Evaluation criteria and methodology

Your submission will be assessed against the evaluation criteria.

The evaluation criteria will provide critical guidance on what you need to demonstrate to win the business. Evaluation criteria will include non-financial value for money considerations. Evaluation criteria are often weighted according to their relative importance, and of course will vary from tender to tender.

Some examples are:

  • demonstrated ability to provide the goods or services
  • ability to manage risk
  • pricing
  • compliance with stated contract conditions.
  • environmental sustainability.

The request document should also describe the evaluation methodology including, for example, whether tenders will be shortlisted before a successful supplier is chosen.

 

Minimum content and format requirements

Minimum content and format requirements explain what information your tender response should contain and the format that you need to use.
For example:

  • in terms of content, you may need to provide certificates of insurance or evidence of a particular licence to support your submission
  • in relation to format, you may need to use specific schedules, or submit your response electronically.

 

Process rules

Process rules relate to how the tender will be run.

For example:

  • the deadline and location for lodging your response
  • protocols for answering your questions and distributing answers to all tenderers
  • procedures to be followed if amendments to the tender documents are needed during the tender open period
  • how your confidential information will be treated both during the tender process and after contract award.

 

The draft contract

A draft contract is usually included in tender documents to allow you to clearly understand the requirements of the Australian Government organisation, and the terms and conditions under which work will be delivered:

  • you may be required to indicate your willingness to comply with the clauses of the draft contract in your tender response
  • where you wish to negotiate alternative clauses, you must note these and provide justification.

Can I see an example of ATM documentation?

If you would like to see what a typical pack of ATM documentation looks like, visit the AusTender website and download a current ATM for the type of goods or services that you are interested in supplying to the Australian Government. This is good preparation so that you see what it looks like, what you will be asked to provide, and you get a sense of how long it might take to complete, before you are caught up in the pressure of responding.

The Department of Finance’s Commonwealth Contracting Suite website also includes a sample CCS Approach to Market and Commonwealth Contract. These documents are provided for information only and are not to be used as templates.

Can I ask questions before I respond?

Yes.

If you have questions about the ATM before it closes, you can ask questions and have them answered. Most ATMs will nominate a contact officer who will receive questions and provide responses. Typically, you will need to submit your questions in writing (usually email) to the nominated contact officer. You will be provided with an answer, again usually in writing.

Australian Government buyers are usually very sensitive to the time pressure associated with questions during an ATM process and will do their best to respond promptly. Many Australian Government organisations will include a closing time for questions in their ATM information. Make a note of these deadlines and read the material early so that questions can be addressed quickly.

When asking questions, please be aware that your question and the answer will be provided to every potential supplier. You will not be identified in that process. For smaller, less complex ATM processes, this is usually achieved by the contact officer sending out a collated list of questions and answers by email to all potential suppliers that are participating in the procurement process.

For ATM processes being conducted through AusTender, the contact officer will collate the questions and answers and issue these as an Addendum to the ATM on AusTender. It is your responsibility to check periodically on AusTender to see if any addenda have been issued in connection with an ATM. If you don’t check this from time to time, you may miss out on important information that is useful in preparing your response. It is possible to register with AusTender and receive automatic notification of developments with an ATM.

Are there opportunities to ask questions in briefing sessions?

If a procurement has a medium to high degree of complexity, the Australian Government organisation may offer an industry briefing session. For open tenders, industry briefings may be advertised on AusTender alongside documentation for the appropriate ATM.

Industry briefings provide potential suppliers with an opportunity to engage directly with the buying Australian Government organisation and increase their understanding of the tender requirements or processes.

Be sure to attend an industry briefing if it is offered. Industry briefings provide an efficient opportunity to ask questions and hear what competitors may ask. Attending these sessions will give you a better idea if this business opportunity is right for you.

Be aware, questions and answers from industry briefing sessions are likely to be collated and provided to all potential suppliers participating in the procurement process. You will not be identified in this process.

For ATM processes being conducted through AusTender, the contact officer will collate the questions and answers and issue these as an addendum to the ATM on AusTender.

Is there a particular format for my response?

Most approaches to market (ATMs) will include a template response for you to complete. You will simply need to answer each of the criteria.

If a template response document is not included with the ATM package you will need to ensure you have included all the mandatory requirements specified in the ATM. If specific formatting is required, this should be clearly stated in the ATM.

Be sure that your response addresses all the minimum requirements and evaluation criteria, completes any mandatory forms, and contains enough information to assist the Australian Government buyer in understanding your offer, and how it represents value for money.

Be sure that your response:

  • directly addresses the requirements as laid out in the statement of requirement
  • completes any mandatory forms provided in the ATM documentation, for example a declaration that you are authorised to submit the response, or a listing of proposed subcontractors
  • pays attention to addressing the evaluation criteria, particularly any mandatory or essential evaluation criteria and conditions of participation
  • provides enough information and enough detail to allow the procurement staff to understand what your business is offering to supply to the Australian Government
  • meets any format and content requirements laid down in the ATM documentation.

Why is the statement of requirements so important?

The statement of requirement, or statement of work, is the document that outlines the details of the goods and / or services that the Australian Government organisation wishes to buy. It is important because it will be used in the tender evaluation process to assess the extent to which each potential supplier’s response addresses the requirements. It will ultimately become part of the contract by which the delivery of the goods and services is managed. This makes it a very important document and you should pay careful attention to the contents of the statement of requirement.

What are mandatory (or essential) evaluation criteria and why are these important?

Pay careful attention to any mandatory (or essential) criteria. These describe the minimum requirements and conditions of participation that must be met for your response to be considered. If there are any mandatory (or essential) evaluation criteria, these will be clearly identified as such in the ATM documents.

If your tender response does not clearly show how your goods or services meet the mandatory criteria, your response will be set aside and excluded from further evaluation as it would not represent value for money. This is not discretionary – the Australian Government procurement officer must set aside any responses that do not comply with mandatory criteria and conditions for participation. It is always disappointing for both parties if it becomes necessary to set a tender response aside.

Further information on common minimum requirements is included in the Frequently Asked Questions – Minimum requirements section of this website.

What are desirable criteria and why are these important?

Desirable criteria indicate features or characteristics of the goods or services that are not essential, but which may add value for the Australian Government buyer.

When responding to desirable criteria, you have the opportunity to show how your goods or services are different from those offered by your competitors, and to demonstrate any key advantages or unique features that your goods or services provide. Your response should remain consistent with the requirements, otherwise you risk extending beyond the scope of the request.

In the context of value for money, if two businesses have offered goods or services at the same price and both have met the mandatory criteria, then the business that best meets the desirable criteria would usually be assessed as offering better value for money.

Why do they send the draft contract with the ATM?

Australian Government buyers will typically provide a draft contract as part of the tender documentation. Draft contracts may include requirements relating to public liability and professional indemnity insurance, confidentiality of both contractor and organisation information, auditor access to contractor records, conflicts of interest, and the use of sub-contractors (where applicable).

Providing the draft contract gives you the chance to see the terms and conditions under which your business would be contracted if you are successful.

This typically includes information relating to your rights and obligations around matters such as:

  • Managing conflicts of interest
  • Managing confidential and personal information
  • Obtaining and maintaining appropriate licenses
  • Auditing arrangements
  • Liability and indemnification
  • Dispute resolution.

Providing the draft contract allows time for you to receive legal advice about the terms and conditions. It also allows you to build your pricing schedule in the knowledge of exactly what is expected of you contractually.

Australian Government organisations must use the Commonwealth Contract Terms for most contracts up to $200,000. It would be useful to familiarise yourself with these terms.

You may be asked to confirm in your tender response whether your business complies with the terms and conditions of the draft contract.

For lower value contracts, generally no negotiations will be involved. It is usually not cost effective to negotiate contract clauses for low value contracts and consequently your offer is unlikely to represent the best value for money if you require special terms and conditions in the contract.

For higher value contracts, organisations will ask that you indicate your preparedness to accept the offered contract and to state any clauses that you want to negotiate. You may negotiate terms and conditions in the draft contract. Generally, you will not be able to negotiate about any contractual issues you have not flagged in your tender.

You should be aware that an Australian Government organisation will usually regard an ATM response that departs from the standard terms and conditions as higher risk and a higher cost than one which complies. This may make your response less competitive in terms of achieving value for money.

When deciding whether to accept the offered contract without negotiations, you should consider that the organisation’s costs of negotiating any changes you have nominated will be included in the organisation’s value for money assessment of your tender. These additional costs may be a deciding factor in your tender being unsuccessful if other suppliers are prepared to accept the contract offered.

It is your responsibility to negotiate any variations to contract clauses before you sign.

Who should I use for referees?

Reference checks are usually made when your business may become a preferred supplier. Reference checks can be quite comprehensive. You should select referees for whom you have worked so they can verify the claims you have made in your tender. You should always ask your proposed referees if they agree to provide a reference for you before you include them in your response. It is not very helpful to your chances if the referee is not expecting the contact, or worse still, does not wish to give a reference for you. It is important to note that in checking your business history the Australian Government organisation may talk to any business (or other government organisation) that you have previously supplied, whether you have offered them as a referee or not. This is part of the due diligence process Australian Government buyers must follow.

How do I lodge my response?

Lodgement timelines and processes will be clearly outlined in the ATM documentation.

For a limited tender, responses are typically lodged via email to a nominated email address. Under certain panel arrangements, such as marketplaces on BuyICT.gov.au, responses will be lodged through the platform relevant for the panel arrangements.

For an open tender, responses are generally lodged via AusTender. If there are alternative arrangements for lodgement, this will be clearly outlined in ATM documentation.

The AusTender Help and Information Centre provides detailed guidance on using AusTender to lodge, further information on how to lodge a response can be found on Lodge a Tender Response.

What if I miss the deadline for submitting the response?

Australian Government organisations cannot accept your response if it is submitted after the deadline, unless the delay is due solely to mishandling by the relevant Australian Government organisation. It is therefore vital that you submit your response by the deadline. If your response is late for any other reason, by even a few minutes, it will not be accepted.

If the ATM is being managed through AusTender, the system will not allow a late tender response. The AusTender system automatically closes at the designated closing time.

What if I forget to include something in my response?

The usual position is that you will not be permitted to add anything to your response once the closing time has passed. This is to comply with the policy on not accepting late tenders.

If you realise you have forgotten to include something before the closing time has passed, you can simply provide the missing information and it will be included.

If it is a small piece of administrative detail, for example, you forgot to sign something, you may be permitted to rectify that mistake, if this does not amount to accepting new information after the closing time. However, you cannot rely on this possibility.

Always thoroughly check your response before you submit it and make sure that you have supplied everything that is required before the closing time.

Can I ask questions about an ATM process after the opportunity has closed?

Once the closing time has passed, procurement officials are very limited in what they can tell you as a potential supplier. This is mainly for probity, fairness and transparency reasons.

Please do not contact procurement officials after closing time unless it is very urgent – for example, if you wish to withdraw your response. There is no point contacting a procurement official with questions about when the process will be completed, whether your response was successful or not, or whether you should accept other work in preference to this opportunity, as they will be unable to comment while tender assessment is underway.

Who will assess my response?

For simple, low value requirements, the decision will usually be made by a single official who understands both the client’s needs and the procurement rules that apply to that purchase.

For more complex or higher value requirements, the selection will usually be made by a tender evaluation panel made up of three or more officials from the Australian Government organisation. There will usually be a representative of the area that wants the goods or services, and a representative from another area in the organisation, who may be a procurement professional.

Will they ask me questions about my response?

You should not assume there will be a further opportunity for you to explain anything about your response. Your response should be complete, accurate and detailed enough to evaluate what you are offering and why your business should be selected.

In some circumstances you may be contacted by the person evaluating your response to clarify something that is not clear in your response. This will almost always be done in writing (including by email) to ensure that there is a proper record of the questions and your replies.

Why does it take so long for an Australian Government organisation to make a decision on an ATM?

Australian Government organisations are aware of the need to make prompt procurement decisions, to complete tender evaluations and award the contract as quickly as possible. However, this may be slower than the private sector experience.

This may be due to the need to ensure high standards of probity, fairness and accountability in decision making. There are checks and balances in the procurement process to ensure that this money is spent wisely, that the best value for money is obtained, and that the way Australian Government contracts are awarded is fair, transparent, and justifiable.

How can I give my response the best chance of success?

A quick checklist of some key points to consider when preparing your tender submission that will give your response the best chance of success is included in the Frequently Asked Questions – Building your best response section.