Innovative Land Mobile Radio System Contracts

Contributed by: Smart City Tech Summit Partner Black & Veatch

Learn why engaging a site development expert directly is a deployment game-changer and can slash site development costs by 30 percent.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE BIG BENEFITS OF SEPARATE SITE DEVELOPMENT BIDS

Agencies are updating and expanding their land mobile radio (LMR) systems to keep pace with population changes and to ensure their communications coverage fully supports emergency and first responder services. Procurement of LMR systems traditionally follows a standard process whereby agencies, like municipalities and state and federal entities, prepare a single request for proposal (RFP) to solicit bids from radio technology manufacturers. Commonly, the contract would cover all phases of the project, including site development. While this approach may seem efficient, it can lead to longer deployment times, higher implementation costs, more change orders, and reduced signal quality. For this reason, forward-thinking agencies are separating the site development phase from the RFP, choosing instead to contract directly with site development specialists like Black & Veatch.

INNOVATIVE RFP CONTRACTING YIELDS SUBSTANTIAL BENEFIT

On the surface, updating an existing system or installing a completely new system appears to be a single project. The project consists of several different phases, each requiring specific expert skill and insight. Traditional RFPs request proposals from radio frequency (RF) manufacturers like Motorola or Harris. The RF manufacturer bundles ancillary components, including backhaul or microwave connectivity, towers, antennae and site construction, and ongoing maintenance services into
their proposal.

Agencies have adopted this bundled RFP process widely because of its procurement simplicity, but this apparent efficiency comes with a price. The RF manufacturer does not specialize in the ancillary components, so they will generally outsource those functions to experts and increase the per-phase cost by as much as 30 percent to ensure profitability. By contracting directly with a site development company like Black & Veatch, agencies can avoid inflated markups and reduce taxpayer expense.

Inherently, separate contracts produce additional procurement-related tasks when compared to the bundled contract process. Most often, consultants that specialize in a particular contract phase assume the bulk of the increased tasks, and the savings realized by the agency more than offset their added time administering separate contracts.

SAFEGUARD AGAINST COSTLY CHANGE ORDERS

Low bids do not always equate to lowest overall costs. Under a bundled contract, a generalized management approach could cause a winning bid to quickly balloon beyond the original budget if execution errors require backtracking to correct mistakes. Site development is intricate, and there is no substitute for insight and experience.

“Many factors affect moves and changes,” says Paul Scutieri, Sales Director for Public Safety Infrastructure at Black & Veatch. He explains a situation under a bundled contract where an RF manufacturer authorized a change order on behalf of the customer without consulting a site development expert. A tower needed to be relocated to the opposite side of a road, which seemed simple enough. However, there was nothing simple about that change.

“The soil conditions were very different at the new location, and they encountered corrosion, which in turn impacted signal quality,” Scutieri says.

That seemingly simple change order resulted in an unplanned increase in project cost and schedule overruns. If the agency had contracted directly with site development experts, then the specialized team would have evaluated the proposed tower locations thoroughly before the final bid submission. Site development experts like Black & Veatch deploy thousands of towers every year. They develop sites with reference to site conditions and other important factors, which mitigates costly changes down the road. In the tower relocation example, Black & Veatch would have anticipated the adverse consequences related to the soils and advised against the change of location.

ADVANCE BIDS, ACCELERATE DEPLOYMENTS

While LMR system deployments can be lengthy, there are ways to shorten the time between RFP and going live.

“A traditional system installation takes a minimum of six months, and a medium-size system can take a full year. Statewide deployment can take multiple years,” says Preethi Pillaipakkam, Business Director for Public Safety Infrastructure at Black & Veatch.

She explains that the procurement and implementation timeframe for different system elements vary. The procurement cycle for the technology portion is highly contentious and tedious; however, once the agency selects the vendor, the implementation cycle is short. On the other hand, the procurement cycle for the
commoditized site development work is shorter; however, the implementation cycle is much longer.

“The reason for this difference,” says Pillaipakkam, “is that contract negotiations with the radio vendor can be contentious. The field is very competitive and vendors often protest over the award, which lengthens the process and adds delays.”

Agencies can award separate site development bids quickly because civil engineering tasks, like site development, are largely a commodity with few competitive points of differentiation. With a separate contract, site development can begin even before the agency awards the LMR contract, whereas the site development cannot begin under a bundled RFP until the agency awards the entire bid. Site construction takes longer than LMR implementation, which means the project timelines associated with a bundled contract can be much longer than those associated with a separate site development contract.

TIMELY, ECONOMICAL MISSION-CRITICAL COMMUNICATIONS

LMR systems are complex and require insightful deployment to support mission critical communications fully. To keep pace with their community’s needs, agencies seek to upgrade their LMR system, but in a manner that safeguards against site development oversights and costly backtracking. To this end, innovative contracting that separates the RFP bids by phase enables agencies to expedite site development and deploy advanced technologies in a timely, cost-effective manner, guided by specialized leadership. Through this approach, agencies will realize a shorter overall deployment time, lower deployment costs, fewer or no change orders, and better overall radio coverage through insightful site development.


Black & Veatch is a leading global engineering, consulting and construction company specializing in infrastructure development in energy, water, telecommunications, management consulting, federal and environmental markets. Learn more at www.bv.com.

 

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