In the FIDIC Contract’s group on LinkedIn, the following question was raised about an EPC tender evaluation. I found this subject hugely interesting because it shows some recurrent underlying ideas about EPC; thanks a lot to the person raising it:

A tender for a desalination plant was called for on EPC contract basis on basis of single stage- two envelope system but offers received are on the basis of different make and technologies.It is employer’s thinking now that they should have called this tender on the basis of two stage- two envelope system as systems offered in each bid is substantially based on different technologies. Can they convert single stage to two stage bidding on the basis of selected technology even now or they call proposals afresh ? Your views requested.

EPC philosophy

This subject shows how Employers often struggle with the EPC philosophy during an EPC tender evaluation. They want to apply the EPC philosopy for its risk allocation: They are looking to transfer the maximum amount of risks to the Contractor. However, they are hesitant when evaluating offers received on EPC tenders. They prefer to compare “apples with apples” rather than doing a more complex evaluation with several variables: price + performance + construction period + O&M costs + etc.

Applying the EPC philosophy halfheartedly is a recipe for failure. EPC projects are always complex projects. The art to get them to work properly is to not only let the EPC Contractor bear a larger part of the risks. But also allow him to optimize the project as per his ideas and competences. We have published before on that subject in this blog:

How to evaluate on an EPC tender ?

Here is my reply to the question quoted above:

On a tender for an EPC Contract, the Contractor should be free to choose the technology as long as it respects the Employer’s Requirements. These Employer’s Requirements should be functional instead of prescriptive. I imagine it was the case because different bidders have submitted compliant bids with different technologies.

The important part of these Employer’s Requirements are the performance guarantees. For a desalination plant, I imagine that this concerns the quantity of water produced per time period (cum/h) to a certain water quality.

The Employer should evaluate offers that fulfill or exceed the Employer’s Minimum Requirements based on their price, the actual performance guarantees and any other established evaluation criteria (like operation and maintenance costs). During EPC tender evaluation, often, the personnel of the Employer is afraid to do so with different technical solutions. They would like to make the offers technically uniform and just evaluate on price. That’s very much against the spirit of an EPC Contract.

Single stage, two-envelop evaluation process

So, how to properly evaluate EPC tenders (still quoting my reply in LinkedIn)?

I am personally in favor of the single stage, two-envelop solution. Steps:

  1. Check the fulfillment of the minimum performance criteria;
  2. For those bids that pass step 1, quantify the technical solution based on the performance criteria, e.g. quantity of water produced per time period, energy consumed in the process, effluents, construction time etc. The bidder’s performance on each of these criteria should be given a monetary value (e.g. how much is worth one month of shorter construction period);
  3. Only after concluding step 2 proceed to open the price envelop so that the technical performance evaluation is not biased by the prices (i.e. avoiding biased evaluation of the technical criteria due to knowledge of the price gaps);
  4. The preferred bidder is the one who has the optimal solution of price + performance criteria that have been evaluated on monetary basis.

What not to do ?

And, what should the Employer certainly not do:

It would be unfair to the bidders to transform this process now in a two-stage process. Especially when allowing bidders to adjust their technical solution to the one preferred by the Employer; preferred after seeing the Contractors’ proposals. Furthermore, it is likely to lead to contract award to a Contractor that did not intend to implement the chosen technical solution. This was probably because they are less familiar with it. And that leads very often to under-pricing a technical solution and “succes” in the second stage. As we all know, that is looking for trouble on complex projects (like desalination plants).

I know several Contractors, specialized in EPC Contracts, that would be horrified by this situation. They invest substantial amounts in preparing an optimized EPC bid. They can’t accept that their good ideas would be thrown on the table for all the competitors to use. I imagine these competent EPC Contractors will simply decline to participate to such a tender.

What is your opinion about this subject? We welcome you to comment here below.

About AfiTaC

AfiTaC.com is the blog on commercial and contractual subjects for the Project Businesses (Construction, Infrastructure, Oil & Gas, Power & Renewable, Water Supply & Sanitation, etc). Its objective is to stimulate reflection, learning, convergence to balanced contracts and positive dispute resolution. You can subscribe to our newsletter by writing to “newsletter@afitac.com”. You can also connect to our LinkedIn page. Engagement with the readers is what keeps us going. So, don’t hesitate to exchange with us by commenting here below, liking our publication on LinkedIn and writing to us “info@afitac.com”. 


Jan Bouckaert

Jan Bouckaert has 25 years of worldwide experience in negotiation of complex construction, renewable energy, power and infrastructure projects. He is also specialized in contract management, risk management and alternative dispute resolution. During Jan’s career path, he lived in France, Belgium, Egypt, India and Portugal and worked for GE Renewable Energy, Alstom Hydro, Besix/Six Construct. He is a Civil Engineer from the University of Leuven (Belgium) and has an MBA from ISEG (Portugal). He speaks fluently English, French, Portuguese and Dutch. Jan is the founder of AfiTaC, a company giving advice on international tenders and contracts. Be welcome to connect on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/afitac/

6 Comments

Liaqat hayat · 10 February 2019 at 4 h 36 min

You have raised valid shortcoming in two stage tendering but I feel that it is not simpler to evaluate tenders for a functional plant like this and is followed by lengthy follow up meetings in the evaluation stage.The public sector tendering should result in best system at least cost or else you face audit observations leading to another type of problem.Unless you are completely sure that you can overcome this,I feel two stage tendering is better solution than single stage

    Jan B. · 10 February 2019 at 8 h 31 min

    Thank you for your very valuable comment.
    Indeed, it is more difficult for the public sector to evaluate EPC bids because the fear to take decisions and face audit is always present.
    – Often EPC is not the best solution for the public sector and it should rather turn to Design & Build with a more detailed specification that has to be followed. This corresponds to choosing upfront the best system, as you say.
    – Or otherwise the public sector should rely on external consulting engineers that will do the evaluation. Of course, these consulting engineers should be properly screened to avoid any bias.
    Maybe I should write another post on the advantages to choose either EPC or Design Build, especially when it comes to value engineering & changes in the works?

Amit · 24 February 2019 at 14 h 34 min

Your solution to EPC bids using different technologies is correct. However it would be v difficult to convert each technical parameter into a monetary value. Most public sectors first prepare a DPR to ascertain a benchmark value of the project and its individual components. This per force has to be based on a specific technology. The EPC tender then gives leverage to the contractor to optimize costs based on methodology and certain amount of value engineering within the technology chosen by the employer.

    Jan B. · 24 February 2019 at 17 h 32 min

    Thanks for your comment.
    Indeed, the objective is not to convert each technical parameter into a monetary value.
    Only those elements that actually impact the revenue for the Employer/Owner should be given a monetary value.
    This applies, for example, to the operation and maintenance costs, the fuel efficiency (if applicable), the time for completion of the project etc.
    Still a job that requires some analysis and concentration to establish the cost/value of the relevant parameters but not unfeasible because corresponding to the major/actual impacts for the Employer/Owner.
    The alternative of making a relevant detailed specification and doing a detailed bid evaluation (without the EPC approach) is also complicated.

Thomas · 18 November 2020 at 8 h 46 min

Good Article. I tend to agree more with Jan.

The EPC Contract is a complex business and before bidding the EPC for a desalination plant, the owner should have ideally done a technology evaluation and included the list of approved technologies and equipment manufacturers in the Invitation to Bid Package. That would give all the bidders a fair chance to place their bids accordingly.

Going to EPC just from a functional spec is also possible, but then the evaluation criteria considering all of the items Jan mentioned shall be thought off and finalized before issuing the ITB package.

If I landed in a situation wondering what to do after receiving bids with two technologies, I would think neither enough scope definition, nor enough bid evaluation criteria were set and I will cancel the current bidding process. Even if there is time pressure, going forward from this condition will land me in severe troubles not only with Audit but also with a lot of technical issues.

"EPC or not EPC, that's the question" - AfiTaC.com · 18 February 2019 at 10 h 29 min

[…] EPC, standing for Engineering – Procurement – Construction, is a widely used term, but not always correctly. And these three words do not necessarily make us a lot wiser. The “EPC question” is about establishing when a contract should best use the EPC type, or not. Sometimes, after launching an EPC tender, Employers (especially state-owned companies), can already get in trouble during the evaluation process. […]

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