Special Reports

Same company set to win another contract

TUI Consulting, the company that received $29.6 million to help Tacoma install its new computer system, is in line to win another city contract to upgrade it.

This one is worth $399,906.

If approved by the Tacoma Public Utilities board of directors, it will be the fourth city or utility contract given to TUI since the city turned on the computer system in 2003, bringing the total in follow-up work to nearly $2.9 million.

It will be the first of the follow-up contracts, however, to be competitively bid.

In October, before the vote to award the last TUI contract, some utility board members and labor union officials expressed concern about becoming overly dependent on a single company to help keep the new system running. Utility Director Mark Crisson said he shared the concern.

When it came time for the city’s computer staff to seek outside help installing a round of software upgrades and for general on-call help, it sought proposals from 20 vendors, including TUI.

A 10-member selection committee of city and utility employees ranked the TUI proposal the highest of nine it received based on a formula that took into consideration strategy, experience and cost.

Tacoma-headquartered TUI was the second-lowest bidder overall, but the lowest of three finalists, said Dave Otto, business information systems director.

The overall low bidder, Hexaware Technologies Inc. of San Jose, Calif., said it could do the job for $307,590.

But the proposal wasn’t considered viable because the company included only one consultant on site, Otto said. That person would have coordinated work with off-shore help, he said.

About six or eight TUI employees are expected to work on the project, though not all at the same time.

TUI’s experience with the version of software that the city uses was cited as a factor in the decision, as well as TUI’s familiarity with Tacoma’s system.

The utility board is scheduled to vote on the TUI contract tonight, but will likely postpone a decision, said board chairman Jake Fey.

Two of the five board members – Tom Hilyard and David Curry – will be absent, Fey said, meaning all three of the remaining members would need to vote “yes” in order to approve the contract.

Fey said he has several questions about the contract and doubts they can all be answered in time for a vote.

One of Fey’s concerns is accountability. He doesn’t think the language in the contract makes it clear how to hold TUI accountable, because the company is only assisting the utility with the work rather than doing the work.

“Usually you don’t hire someone to help you,” Fey said. “You hire them to do a job and if they don’t, they don’t get paid.”

The software upgrade project is expected to begin later this month and continue until about the middle of May, Otto said.

City computer workers could have done the work without outside help, but it would have taken longer, he said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 120, which represents city computer workers, has complained that Tacoma is sending too much computer work to outside consultants.

But the union met with city officials and decided to stay quiet about the latest contract, said Brock Logan, staff representative for the union.

Later this month, the utility board will be asked to vote on another contract that will make three companies available for on-call work. TUI Consulting is one of them.

As the city spreads around work to other companies, those companies will become familiar with the city’s system and eventually provide more options for outside help, Otto said.

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542