Real Story: Sometimes an RFI Works Better

Welcome to RSG's latest "Real Story" case study about technology selection.

We once worked with a major professional association that ran a complicated certification process for medical professionals, entailing large sets of paper files, emails, spreadsheets, and PDFs. They wanted to know the best way to digitize the whole operation, but were spinning their wheels in conversations with vendors and integrators.

It seemed like none of the suppliers could grasp the breadth of what the association needed, and the conversations digressed into cutting back on requirements to fit different solutions.

The Case for an RFI

Instead of going to market with a full-blown Request for Proposal (RFP or Tender), we helped the association roll up all their questions into a more preliminary Request for Information (RFI):

  • What kind of software was needed? They had been exploring enterprise content management (ECM), business process management (BPM), workflow, and eLearning marketplaces.
  • How long would the implementation take, and what were their migration options and associated costs?
  • How broadly available was the expertise in their particular industry and use cases?
  • How complex were the tools to use, and what was the attendant training and education effort they should anticipate for the association administrative staff?

The association cast a wide net for the RFI, including software vendors, integrators, and consultancies. They learned that the best match for the type of technology they were seeking was “case management” software, and that the target vendor list would likely differ based on whether their approach would turn out to be content-centric or process-centric. They learned that several vendors and integrators had specific expertise with association-based certification systems. And they learned that the implementation was best concluded as a series of steps rather than a total cut-over.

The association then re-examined its specific requirements and confidently went out to a final short list with a highly targeted solicitation process.  In the end, they actually saved time, but even more importantly, they put together a solid process for finding the best fit regarding a very important business process.

Beware the Canned RFP

Speaking of time, vendors or marketplace consultants will sometimes give you canned RFPs under the guise of a time-saver. These are pre-made, ready-to-go RFPs where you just insert your company name and a few details. Some case management vendors offered the association to use their RFP "as a starting point."

This is always a mistake.  Every other vendor has seen them and may assume the project is hardwired for a competitor, then not participate. In addition to being very busy, technology vendors are also very suspicious. So if your field of competition is truly open, and it should be, don’t suggest otherwise by starting with a canned template. Instead, challenge vendors with real narratives and use your own requirements under your authentic voice to develop your RFP and find your best solution. 

Lessons Learned

Lesson #1: For a very large digital initiative, consider an RFI to educate your team, and clarify opportunities and costs before continuing.

Lesson #2: Getting important questions answered up front can end up saving you time as well as money.

Lesson #3: Never issue a fully canned RFP written by a vendor; the RFI has taught you what's write your own test cases.

Next Steps

If you're selecting marketing, customer experience, or digital engagement technology, be sure to check out RSG's hard-hitting vendor evaluation research.

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