Best Practices for Developing IT RFPs

Best Practices for Developing IT RFPs

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Well-written RFPs will save you time, money and headaches when selecting our IT service provider. It will help clarify service expectations for both parties, which is invaluable for contract negotiations and developing a good relationship with your next supplier. Poorly written RFPs can have lasting negative impacts on both parties, won’t surface the most importance differences between suppliers, and will waste your time. Quartet has compiled the following list of IT RFP best practices based on our years of answering and advising on them.

These best practices are designed to:

  • Clarify the competitive environment
  • Define the service required
  • Enable the objective vendor evaluation
  • Encourage the best possible responses
  1. Know What You Are Looking For – Sounds simple, right? However, often with too many “cooks in the kitchen” and in some cases poor planning this is often not the case. As a general practice, an RFP is developed to help your firm discover who can best deliver the product/service you need. Too often they are used to gather information to help firms decide what the eventual service should look like. This is a waste of both your time as well as the respondents.
  2. Describe the problem first – Immediately offer respondents information on the pain points and issues that you are facing. Give your RFP a descriptive title and go into detail on what brought you to this point in the first place.
  3. Make sure your end goals are clear – The overarching goals of the RFP should be clear and prioritized to enable each vendor to create a compelling solution. Any particular aspects of the IT services that you want to improve upon should be described in detail.
  4. Sell Yourself – You want vendors who see you as more than just a commission cheque. You want ones who want to work with your firm.  Sell yourself, what makes you unique, how do you work with partners and vendors.  What is your corporate culture like? Encourage suppliers to complete the RFP.
  5. Templates are Great… “Fill in the blank” forms are not – Unfortunately many organizations use ridged RFP processes that force respondents to simply fill out response forms. If you are only concerned with price and quality and culture are non-factors then this can work. If you’re concerned with more than just cost, then you are making a huge error. (despite what some consultants will tell you) This approach only leads to a reduction in critical thinking.  For large and complex deals (such as technology outsourcing), “filling in the blanks” on a template simply is not sufficient. Effective RFPs need to be carefully composed in order to maximize the return. We have seen large technology transactions that started with a sub-standard RFP leading directly to problems with the end solution.
  6. Clearly offer information on sending proposals – Include information on your cover page about a project’s point of contact, where to
    • Send proposals – sending proposals when they should be submitted, and acceptable formats, this will reduce the likelihood that you receive untimely or unsatisfactory proposals.
    • Enable the Vendors to Differentiate Themselves – We can’t stress this enough.  Would you normally hire a vendor who couldn’t differentiate themselves?  The RFP must provide sufficient business information to enable each vendor to understand how they can bring more to the table than anyone else. Outline areas such as strategic objectives, how the services support your business processes, anticipated business changes that may impact the services, volume of transactions, technology roadmap, etc. This type of information allows each vendor to better understand the business environment and therefore to differentiate their responses by demonstrating how they can address the specific issues your team is facing. Once again to repeat point #5- do not use “fill in the blank” forms. They will never allow for differentiation.
    • Make sure Vendors Discuss the Transition Period – Especially if there is a good chance to replace an incumbent. The transition period will be where things can go very wrong quickly. It will also be the “first impression” that will stick with both organizations for a very long time. The RFP should address the projected transition timeline, roles and responsibilities during that period. Also, the obligations on the incumbent, the level of your organizations support to be provided, risk mitigation strategies, escalation plan and performance requirements.
    • Is everyone on the same Page? – When purchasing what could be complex IT service, it’s important every respondent understand what’s being asked for and what your expectations are. If this doesn’t happen comparing each proposal and negotiating the final deal will be a nightmare. The strategy of “we will figure it all out in the contract” never works.
    • Walk a Mile in the Vendor’s Shoes – At some point in developing the RFP, read it from the point of view of a vendor seeing it for the first time. You will be shocked at how many requirements require clarification. An effective way to see these is also showing the RFP to a competent, yet uninvolved third-party to review.

    When used correctly an IT RFP is an excellent tool for sourcing the best products or services. While the RFP process is time consuming and takes effort, it can provide a company with unique insight into project risk and will help determine the best way and best vendor to move forward with. To get the best responses it is important to follow best practices. RFPs are difficult and time-consuming for everyone. Time and care spent preparing a good RFP will pay off throughout the life of the contract. It is worth the effort to do it right.

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