In Smaller RFPs, more agility and smartass kids, Mike O’Donnell claims that overly prescriptive and complex tender documents in the IT sector discourage those best able to compete the work and actively encourage large companies to take on the work at grossly inflated prices.
I’ve seen similar problems in some large e-learning projects. Often the RFP documents are overly prescriptive in the process and governance requirements. That is, they include detailed criteria on how the successful tenderer must be organised and managed. Of course, those commissioning such projects need some security as to the viability of the contractor. But some RFPs are so prescriptive the effect is to discourage or even prevent smaller, more agile contractors from taking part.
In an environment where we need all the innovation we can encourage, I believe those looking to commission e-learning projects need to rethink their approach.
Jeff Young’s article Academics Discuss Mass Migration From Second Life reports that many educators are angry at changes to the fees charged for Second Life. But educators shouldn’t be angry or surprised when companies like Linden Labs change the rules and start charging hefty fees. After all, it’s a proven business model on the web: get buy-in by providing a free or low-cost service, then raise the fees once a subscriber base has been captured established.*
However, we have every right to be disappointed when large amounts of public funds are spent on projects developing virtual learning spaces which could disappear overnight. It’s exciting and essential to explore the educational potential of tools and systems such as Second Life, but significant investment requires caution. When locked up inside a proprietary system, the value of ‘virtual real estate’ can be reduced to zero overnight if it needs to be rebuilt from scratch.
Decision makers who allocate substantial funds to such projects should expect standard risk management practices to be in place to ensure that loss of investment is minimised. It’s common sense – and in a shrinking economy, anything else is unacceptable.
* I’m not saying that I support this model, just that it is prevalent and it is predictable that private companies will act in the interests of their shareholders first and foremost.