8.2 Characteristics of effective IT specifications

Effective IT specifications will be written with certain characteristics that include:

  • Simple: Avoid unnecessary detail, but be complete enough to ensure that requirements will satisfy their intended purpose.
  • Clear: Use terminology that is understandable to the agency and suppliers. Avoid legalese type language and jargon whenever possible. Include definitions of terms where needed to mitigate conflicting interpretations and to align with Commonwealth and/or agency-specific technology terms and definitions.
  • Informative: Describe the agency's desired state for the IT solution, to include usage and audience and any technical/functional needs/restrictions, workflows or data flows, interface with other applications/systems and architecture for legacy systems, platforms, operating systems that must align with Commonwealth or the agency's overall IT strategy.
  • Accurate: Use units of measure or performance compatible with industry standards. All quantities and packing, delivery and acceptance requirements should be clearly identified. Include all required state, federal and/or national technical, professional, industry standards, specifications and certifications, as needed.
  • Flexible: Avoid inflexible specifications which prevent the acceptance of a proposal that could offer greater performance for fewer dollars. Use approximate values such as dimensions, weight, speed, etc. (whenever possible) if they will satisfy the intended purpose. If approximate dimensions are used, it should be within a 10% rule of thumb unless otherwise stated in the solicitation document.

In order to promote fair and open competition among all suppliers and to motivate offerors to prepare creative and innovative proposals, specifications should be written as generically as possible. IT business owners and agencies should avoid writing restrictive requirements/specifications by:

  • Including only essential requirements of the IT product, service or solution needed.
  • Avoiding restrictive or impractical requirements such as those that are nonessential or obsolete.
  • Carefully check product delivery or project schedule requirements to ensure the turnaround time from supplier's receipt of order to completion is not too restrictive or limiting.
  • Defining requirements to promote and encourage suppliers to propose standard, commercially available products, solutions or services where possible.
  • Not specifying a particular brand name, product or feature that is peculiar to one manufacturer, except for reference purposes.
  • Not dictating detailed design solutions prematurely.
  • Allowing sufficient time for suppliers to review the technology need, consider the requirements, and prepare and submit a proposal.

One of the first considerations in preparing specifications should be determining what type of specifications will best describe the technology needed. There are certain types of specifications: standard, design, performance, or brand.