How The Standard RFP Process is Flawed for Technology Purchases

In a typical Request for Proposal (RFP) process for the purchase of technology, an organization develops a long list of requirements and has technology companies submit bids against those requirements. Rarely does the technology company get a chance to provide alternate solutions or speak about additional functionality. At least, that is typically the way it is done in the public sector. Does anyone else see the flaw in that process? The obvious concern is the time it takes to prepare the requirements and specifications, the time it takes to run the RFP process, the time it takes to select a technology partner and negotiate a contract and the time it takes to design, develop, test and implement the technology. No big deal, only 12-18 months of time spent. So, getting to the flaw…by the time you have selected your partner, not only is it likely that your requirements have changed, but also the technology itself may have changed. Now you need version 7.0.3 instead of version, which means more design work and longer timelines. By the time the technology is implemented, it is based on requirements that may be two years old. What if they no longer apply? Today, businesses and industries change so quickly that this is not an optimal solution for implementing technology.
So how can we overcome this apparent flaw in the process? Here are a few ideas:
  • Focus on outcomes, not requirements – What is the desired outcome and objectives of the technology? What do you want it to do? Answering these questions provides far more insight than providing a list of 200 requirements that need to be met. Too many organizations just try to replicate what they are currently doing only using a fancy new system. Focus on outcomes and then you can determine the best way to achieve them.
  • Provide flexibility around solutions – The typical RFP process forces companies to respond to a specific issue or set of requirements, but what if that company knows a better way? Run a competitive process that allows participants to provide the best way they know of to achieve the desired outcomes. They are the ones who are the experts and do this for a living so give them a chance to show you that expertise.
  • Build more dialogue into the process – Meeting with a few choice companies will provide additional insight into what options a company has and what the solution may be. Provide participants an opportunity to have a discussion with your key people to gain insight on what might work best for them so they can provide the best response possible.
  • Don't overlook key components – Most technology RFPs I see overlook some obvious parts that are key to success, namely change management and training. As a part of the process, ensure that any company you select can help with these areas. Most technology implementations fail because internal users were not effectively trained and the change management effort was poor or even non-existent. Ensure this becomes an important component of the decision-making process.
  • Find out specific results from other customers – No one should be implementing new technology just for the sake of it. Ask process participants to provide you with specific results that other clients have achieved as a result of working with them. This shows that there is an actual return on investment and helps to determine which companies are actually able to deliver on their promises.
An analogy to this in my line of work (consulting) is someone comes to me and says, "Andrew, we need you to come in and do a workshop for us." My first response is, "Why do you think you need a workshop? Tell me more about what you want to achieve and we can develop an approach that best meets your needs. Maybe a workshop is exactly what you don't need since you have done them before and they have yielded poor results." I don't want clients telling me how to consult (although I will certainly listen to their input) just as technology companies don't want to be told how to best do what they do. Yet, we ask them to come in and implement what we think is right without giving them much input into the process. That needs to change.

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