8.1 Information technology specifications

An information technology (IT) specification is a description of a technology product or service a customer seeks to procure and is also a description of what a supplier must be prepared to offer to be considered for an award. Specifications describe the technical requirements for a material, product, or service and include the criteria for determining whether these requirements are met. A specification may describe the performance parameters which a supplier has to meet, or it may provide a complete design disclosure of the work or job to be done.

Specifications provide the basis for judging whether or not the supplier has met the requirements in the solicitation. The nature of the technology good or service being procured will determine whether specifications will be long or short and what descriptive format should be used. Most specifications contain a description of the requirements and quality assurance provisions and will thoroughly define the minimum requirements of the needed technology.

Specifications are the only way to obtain the IT goods or services required. Specifications constitute the heart of a contract document that will govern the supplier of required goods or services in the performance of the contract as become the basis for judging compliance. Good specifications promote full and unrestricted competition through setting forth actual, minimum requirements as opposed to desires. Specifications should also contain quality assurance provisions which provide a means of determining that the supplier has met the contractual requirements. Specifications should be clear and precise. If requirements are ambiguous or leave room for interpretation, suppliers are entitled to make interpretations that work to their own advantage. A good specification should:

  • Be based on the business need.
  • Emphasize performance rather than design.
  • Not require features not needed for the product's or solution's intended use.
  • Identify the essential characteristics of the desired product or solution.
  • Not be written by a bidder/offeror or prepared with the assistance of a potential bidder/offeror.
  • Leverage commercial, off-the-shelf products.
  • Avoid requirements that favor a particular vendor.
  • Allow for competition to the maximum extent possible.
  • Be quantifiable rather than qualitative.
  • Be verifiable.
  • Not overstate quality, but plainly define performance expectations and needs for the intended business purpose.
  • Avoid the use of words such as "must" or "shall" as these restrict competition and often rule out a supplier with a new and innovative solution.

Specifications must always be clear and understandable. They must permit competition between products of equal quality. Specifications may include a statement regarding the qualitative nature of the purchase and should identify minimum essential characteristics and standards to which the purchase must conform if it is to satisfy its intended use. Performance requirements or specifications should be identified. Specifications control:

  • The performance level of the product,
  • The amount of competition,
  • The suitability of the product, solution or service for the job to be done,
  • The method of evaluation used in making an award and in determining the best value bid for the purchase.