Narrowing the Field

Elsewhere in this magazine is a feature on a large project I was fortunate to be involved with at the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minn. (see page 94). The project had a total cost of roughly $10 million and involved expanding a large CCTV system, building two new control rooms and converting 1,800 recording channels to an enterprise digital video system.

Naturally with a project of this size, we got everyone’s attention. Many readers of this column will recall the difficulty involved in narrowing the field of vendors and providers to manageable proportions. I’d like to share how we went about that difficult task at Mystic Lake. Looking for the Best For this project, we knew we would ultimately select a single equipment manufacturer and design the system around their product line. As far as selecting the integrator, we felt that a well-written and documented specification would level the playing field somewhat, and we needed to ensure a fair and equitable competitive bidding process.

However, the idea of supporting, reviewing and evaluating all of the bidders on the project was not a pleasant one. For these reasons, we decided to go with a “prequalification round.” This would allow us to select three or four top integrators based on their responses.

In addition, it gave us a documented idea of how the manufacturers stacked up and which merited a closer look. This process would lead us to a realistic budgetary number and allow Mystic Lake Corporate Compliance Officer Scott Scepaniak to pursue and secure the funding for the system. The prequalification specification or request for proposal (RFP) was issued in May 2004 to nine integrators that included local, regional and national players. In addition to specifying system performance, it also was designed to establish a benchmark for integrator performance. It sought information outlining similar project experience, training, technical certifications and competence, and, of course, trade and client references.

The RFP listed 10 different manufacturers of digital video products and encouraged the integrators to submit as many separate bids as they felt were appropriate.

For Mystic Lake, the results were astounding. Good, Bad, Ugly Proposals The responses to the RFP were a dramatic cross section of what was available in the market at the time. While we expected a variance in the prices submitted, we were surprised to see 128 separate system designs that ranged in price from $4 million to almost $20 million — all from the same specification! While we understood that our spec was still a little ambiguous and had several “blue sky” items in it, we had not expected that wide a range this early in the process.

The quality of the responses had a similar spread. One came in on five typewritten pages, complete with spelling mistakes and a floppy disk. Others supplied three-ring binders filled with information, photographs, timelines and detailed drawings explaining various aspects of their proposed solutions.

Clearly, we had some work to do on three fronts: vendor selection, the establishment of a budget and manufacturer selection. Breezing Through the Vendors Vendor selection was perhaps the easiest since we were not making a final decision at this point. It was our intention to narrow the field down to a manageable number of bidders to ensure a competitive landscape when we ultimately issued the request for bid (RFB). We accomplished this by establishing a scoring system based on the criteria outlined in the RFP and rating each vendor based on their responses, first-hand knowledge, references that they had provided, and the quality of their presentation.

Of the eight vendors that submitted bids, we selected four to ultimately bid on the final design. Designing on a Dime We wanted to ensure that we were basing our budget number on a real system that would actually meet our needs rather than pulling a number out of the air.

Asking for too much money might delay full implementation of a digital system until prices came down. Budgeting too little might lead to compromises later if our needs changed.

We decided to take a pass at the long list of system designs and apply a filter to narrow the range.

This all left us with 11 system designs to review before we had to go back to the systems above $8 million. We reviewed all 11 in detail, starting with the one with the lowest cost, to ensure they met our specifications. When we had four systems that came close enough to fitting our needs, we stopped there.

We averaged those four prices and used that as our budget number. Our reasoning was simple: While our needs would likely change somewhat, we were still a year away from purchasing the system and market pricing trends would work in our favor, offsetting the cost of the changes. Selecting a Manufacturer

We all agreed that Mystic Lake’s needs would be best served by reviewing the systems we were considering in a “real world” setting. This meant seeing it in a casino environment where we could hear how actual users felt about the products and, just as importantly, the support they received from the manufacturer.

We had budgeted some time to visit facilities and now planned two trips: one to the East Coast and another trip closer to Mystic Lake in the upper Midwest. We had narrowed our field to six different manufacturers and felt that a closer look would get us down to two.

It was our intention to select and specify a single manufacturer, with a second viable alternative in case we were unable to successfully negotiate with our first choice or other problems arose (check out next month’s “Enterprising Solutions” column for more on disaster planning).

The review of different facilities was again enlightening, and the expression “damning with faint praise” came to mind. And the Winner Is When we got back to Mystic Lake after two weeks of system evaluations, we summarized our findings. We rated the systems we had seen against 18 categories, ranging from system architecture and installed base to video quality and support.

It’s not the data sheet that makes or breaks a system, it’s the real world. Rely on your eyes and feedback from people you respect, and you’ll make the right decision every time. I know we did.

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