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Guidance notes - Writing a Technical Specification for Equipment

Note : this is written to specifically help those putting together specifications for equipment, however the general ideas contained in this document can be translated into specifications for other areas including software and services

A good technical specification should incorporate the following:

  • a brief description of the science to be performed
  • Scope of application
  • detailed performance criteria, tolerances etc
  • the specification must be generic and unbiased, allowing open competition based around end results.

Important note:
A good technical specification will give the supplier scope to provide their best offer, but will also include any requirements that must be met in order to be ‘fit for purpose’.  This is important if we later wish to argue that the equipment supplied does not meet our specified requirements.  If we don’t include it in the specification, it is harder to prove that it was an essential requirement.


You may wish to break down the technical specification into 'essential' and 'desirable' categories.

A typical format:

Brief summary / overview
Short description of the science to be performed, highlighting performance objectives or the type of samples to be tested, for example.


Essential or Minimum requirements

An output specification is the preferred option, as this gives suppliers scope to make suggestions and provide technical alternatives that we may not have been previously aware of.
To include:

  • enough information for potential suppliers to determine and cost the equipment (and any associated services) they will offer
  • Specifications to be generic and if they have to include Brand names or patented terms then to be followed by “or equivalent”
  • Specific Standards, Codes of Practice, Accreditation etc that may be required

Part of our tender documentation includes a section asking the supplier about non-conformance.  By specifying our minimum performance requirements we put the onus on the supplier to state whether or not they meet our requirements. If at a later stage it is shown that they do not, then we have recourse to various remedy options, including returning the equipment as not fit for purpose.

It is possible to put a minimum requirement that effectively excludes all but one supplier from meeting the specification. This can only be used if the requirement is essential to the science case and research output.  In this instance it may be necessary for the Specifier to justify this ‘lock out’ requirement to an audit procedure, such as a Funding Council audit or panel of peers. 

Please don’t copy the specifications straight from a manufacturer’s description.  Most competitors know their market, and if they believe that a particular supplier is being given a preferential advantage, they may choose not to tender or even to complain (legitimately) that they are being treated unfairly.  This affects us in that we reduce our available options at the offer stage and leave us open to legal challenge (particularly in the case of EU level tenders) that could result in financial penalties or longer timescales to resolve.


Desirable options

Could include the following:

  • Accessories or additional features that enhance current or future functionality
  • Upgradeability
  • Aspects that enhance whole life costing aspects, such as generic consumables or free software upgrades or additional copies
  • If the equipment requires a PC, monitor and software, say so but do not be too specific, or qualify with “or equivalent”.


Dependencies (if applicable)

These could include:

  • Positioning restrictions (room height, access to site etc)
  • If the proposed equipment needs to be compatible with any existing equipment or software format
  • Time constraints

The Procurement Office standard ‘ITT’ tender document contains standard Conditions that cover training, warranties and whole life costing such as spare parts, consumables, service contracts. An end user does not typically need to include these aspects into their technical specification unless highly relevant, in which case please discuss these aspects with your Procurement Officer.

There is also a ‘catch all’ phrase that we add at the bottom of the specification that states:
“Whilst you should submit your offer based on the specifications and requirements given, should you believe that an offer based on an alternative specification would meet the University’s requirements and offer greater value for money, this should be detailed separately and returned with the completed tender documents.”

Don’t be overly specific, in case you restrict a supplier from making an offer that might meet your needs, or might cause a supplier to feel that he is being unfairly restricted from being able to make an offer that he feels could meet our requirements.


Need help or more information?

Who to contact
For further information about this guidance contact the Procurement team.