The responses to your invitation to tender (ITT) will give you a good impression of the available options but they won't tell the full story. You are likely to want to meet the suppliers and undertake further testing and evaluation.
You may simply choose to invite each of the suppliers in to give a presentation but a more structured approach can provide a more sound basis for decision-making.
As higher education institutions we are experts in assessment and should endeavour to apply the good practice we use in assessing students to helping us make fair and accurate judgements about the relative merits of the products under consideration.
A more thorough way to evaluate the products is to design a set of test 'scripts' so that each supplier is required to demonstrate the same features in the same way. This puts you in the driving seat by ensuring the demonstrations focus on what is important to you and allow you to evaluate in a consistent manner.
You do however, need to beware of being overly rigid and/or focusing such scripts too heavily on what you do at the moment. A well-designed evaluation should also allow you to identify better ways of doing things and give you an understanding of how well a particular supplier can support your future objectives. How a supplier interprets and responds to your business needs can tell you a lot about what they will be like to work with as a partner.
Bear in mind that demonstrations or other evaluation undertaken at this stage can only be used to validate/reassess your scoring of the tender documents. You cannot introduce new criteria that were not included in your ITT.
We didn't invite vendors to present during the process as presentations can sometimes be a little bit smoke and mirrors and the charm of the person who is presenting can actually influence people's decision.
Andrew Raistrick, Business Analyst and Project Manager,
University of Huddersfield