A Request for Proposal (RFP) has long been the public sector’s go-to method of procurement for technical and software solutions. This formal process is designed to ensure fairness; however, it can come with some headaches.
The RFP process requires an internal review of requirements and needs. Then the procurement department compiles a set of documents for vendors explaining their needs and asking hundreds, if not thousands of functional questions. Vendors spend a great deal of time responding to RFPs and embarking on a series of meetings and demonstrations to prove they can meet the long list of requirements. The entire sales cycle could take 6-18 months, with the RFP portion taking 6-9 months.
There are some common challenges that many public sector organizations face when it comes to RFPs. If the RFP itself isn’t clear, compliance isn’t met, or the system or vendor selection is biased, organizations may find themselves needing to re-implement a recently implemented system and spending more time and money than originally planned. Yikes!
3 RFP pitfalls to avoid
Wouldn’t it be easier to concentrate from the beginning on the organizational benefits of a system change and the desired end state? This may involve a change to your current RFP process. If any one of these common pitfalls sound familiar, don’t worry – we can help you optimize your approach.
Pitfall #1: A vague proposal
There are well planned out and well written RFPs, but the majority do not fully explore the reasoning behind changes and the desired end state. The documents often cite improved efficiencies, fewer manual processes, less paper, and increased productivity, but these ideas aren’t actionable if they’re not fully defined and measurable. As a best practice, public sector organizations should avoid vague proposals and unrealistic expectations when writing an RFP. RFPs should be well crafted and have clear expectations. It is best that your organization come up with a standardized format that covers all the legal, regulatory, financial, and licensing requirements. You’ll want to be sure that the new system meets basic compliance requirements.
Writing an RFP that is concise, yet substantial can be difficult – we get it! At OnActuate, we will work closely with your organization to refine the objectives together, so everyone is on the same page. This process adds time but is highly valuable, and something other vendors may not offer.
Pitfall #2: Focusing your efforts on replicating the current state rather than improvements
It is important to make sure that all your functional and compliance needs are met with the new solution. But you need to make sure that the RFP is focusing on what improvements you want to see as well. Simply duplicating your current processes and system outputs will not give you that desired end state. Conversely, a project can be greatly slowed down when an organization guesses at what improvements or changes are needed before they understand the functionality of the new system. Desired results and changes can often be made in more than one way. Once you have established that a vendor can meet your functional requirements, we suggest getting the solution up and going as quickly as possible to experiment with how things could be done differently and more efficiently. Small pilots and proof of concept projects could be configured, all focusing on the desired, measurable improvements of the system replacement. Users can practice new ways of achieving the same results without the constraint of making it look and work like it always has.
No one said change was easy! Make sure your system and vendor selection is based on what the organization needs, not based on how closely they align with the current system and processes. Familiar isn’t always better. Growth can be uncomfortable.
Pitfall #3: Improper vendor follow-up
A disorganized process for evaluating shortlisted vendors can cause confusion and disagreements within the team. We recommend that your organization create scoring criteria to rank vendors in key areas – such as budget, experience, and customer references – for fair comparison. A weighted scoring process will ensure you are selecting the vendor that matches what is most important to you. Key stakeholders in the project should be involved with the scoring to gather opinions and thoughts to help carefully select the right vendor.
Some vendors will also suggest a needs assessment prior to the contract phase. This gives both the client and the vendor the opportunity to meet the team and discuss possible red-flags and blockers prior to being locked in. A more detailed project plan and cost estimate can be created once the assessment is complete, giving the client more assurance that their needs are being met.
Identifying the scoring criteria before developing the RFP doesn’t just help with vendor follow-up but ensures your RFP will have clear goals and end state in mind.
Avoiding these three pitfalls takes time and planning up-front but will set you on the path to project success.
Download our no-cost RFP template
Don’t know where to start when developing an RFP? Fill out this quick form to download a spreadsheet with commonly seen RFP details to jump-start your planning process.
You want to invest in new digital technologies that save time, money, and resources, but getting approval or budget, and having projects go through the RFP stage to the implementation stage can be a struggle. At OnActuate, we understand the fear of project failure. That’s why we developed an entire process to minimize risk during implementation.
Learn more about OnActuate’s experience working with public sector organizations.