Public Sector Contracts
The 'Idiot's Guide' to searching for public sector contracts on TED, the online supplement to OJEC (the Official Journal of the European Community).
Quick Guide to Searching for Public Sector Contracts02/09/02
If you're not accustomed to working with public sector clients, you could be forgiven for assuming that OJEC was a consortium of oil producers or an obscure character from Blake's 7. In fact, it is the Official Journal of the European Community, in which information about the majority of public sector contracts and tenders in Europe is published - including those for web developers, consultants, designers, marketers and advertisers.
Within the EU, all public sector contracts above a certain value have to be published in OJEC. (Currently, this value is approximately £150,000, although many contracts below this value are also published in the journal.) This information is available to all on Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) (http://ted.publications.eu.int/), OJEC's online supplement. The trouble is, thousands of jobs are posted on TED each week, ranging from contracts to supply Bavarian old folks' homes with zimmer frames to major civil engineering projects in Spain. How can you find out about the jobs that are most relevant to you?
The first thing to do is to check our guide to the Latest Ojec Tenders, which provides links to a selection of jobs appropriate to the NMK community, and is updated every couple of weeks.
Alternatively, if you require a service that finds tenders matching the specific requirements of your company, you can subscribe to a number of commercial services - for example, Business Information Publications (www.bipcontracts.com) or Contract Data Services (http://contractdataservices.co.uk/tenders.html) - that will do this for you - for a fee.
The third option is to search TED yourself, in which case the following tips will prove useful to the uninitiated:
Go to http://ted.publications.eu.int/, select 'en' as your language and click through to the title page. This page doesn't always refresh too well, so before you go any further make sure that the date on the right-hand side of the screen is correct, and then click on 'Search for tenders'.
Having done this, you'll be confronted by a form requesting the sort of information that could discourage all but the most experienced eurocrats from proceeding any further. Does the CPV code 72224000 for 'Project management consultancy services' more accurately describe the kind of work you're looking for than 72220000 for 'Systems and technical consultancy services' or 64216000 for 'Electronic message and information services'?
Clicking on the 'normal search' tab at the top of the page presents you with a less intimidating form, but one that nevertheless contains a couple of empty boxes that intuition alone will not help you to complete. The key is to ignore all of the fields you don't understand, and rely exclusively on entering key words in the 'Full text' field at the foot of the form, as you would with any search engine. Although this approach may not give you the most accurate and finely-tuned list of results, it should return most of the jobs that will be of interest to you, plus a number of red herrings.
Entering "internet OR online OR web* OR software OR computer" (note the wildcard after "web") and clicking search will give you a list of any web development jobs on offer in Europe that day. Each listing will provide you with information about who to contact for further details, what kinds of companies are eligible to apply, and what the deadlines for applications or expressions of interest are. If you want to search previous editions, simply change the issue number in the 'OJ S' box at the top of the page. Once you get the hang of it, you can start to refine your searches, for example by typing 'GB' in the 'Country' field to limit your search to Britain.
Pretty straightforward, don't you think? Well, yes and no. While this approach should give you information about all of the jobs that are on offer, you are likely to find that you aren't eligible to apply for all of them. Many public sector bodies employ all of their service providers from rosters that are updated only every few years, for example, although it is sometimes possible to bypass this process if you present a particularly strong case. The good news is that when rosters do come up for review, information about how to apply is also posted on TED, so that even if you lose out this time you could be in the running by the time a contract comes up for renewal.
Another barrier you could encounter is that contract-awarding bodies impose restrictions that exclude new or smaller companies, such as only accepting bids from companies with turnovers in excess of a specified amount. This is because public sector contracts tend to run for several years at a time, and for reasons of accountability awarding bodies are averse to the risk of service providers going out of business before contracts have been fulfilled. But that is the subject of a future article, and in the meantime if you want to know more about the difference between a Restricted Procedure and an Open Procedure with Recurring Quantities, there are details on the information pages at http://ted.publications.eu.int/. Happy searching!