Writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) may scare most people off, and initially sounds like a headache, especially for a technology project, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Asking the right questions early on can save your organisation a lot of time and money in the long run.
I have seen my fair share of Skype for Business RFPs, and there are a few things I see regularly that make the process cumbersome, sometimes confusing and often inadvertently misleading. If you want to write an effective RFP that is going to deliver the solution you need, then you may have to rethink your approach.
In this blog, I have shared my insights on the 10 steps to writing a better RFP.
- Getting the terminology right
This is very important and frequently missed. If you already have a communications platform and want to move to Skype for Business, make sure you understand what the features are called. Cisco and Avaya terminology can be greatly different to that used by Microsoft. Hunt groups and SRST are terms not used in Microsoft land. Using the correct language is extremely important when you need the right solution. If you are not settled on a vendor and need to use generic terms, make sure those terms and phrases are valid across all the vendors. Be clear; if not, you will get questions back from suppliers that to you will seem stupid, but to suppliers can make a big difference to the solution you will be presented with.
- Make sure everyone knows the goal
This may sound obvious, but it is not always a joined up approach. Each business area tends to write their own section of the RFP; including their set of requirements, often repeating what has already been stated in other sections and many times contradicting other requirements. Procurement, for example, while not needing to know the technicalities, should understand the impact of some of the restrictions in communication and marking.
- Allow enough time
Make sure that you build in time to take a step back to review the requirements. RFPs are often set with tight deadlines and it can take a while to write the RFP in the first place, so give your suppliers sufficient time to respond after the clarification question stage. All too often we see a good amount of time for questions and then a week to write up a hefty response. If you want quality responses, give the suppliers time. A typical RFP may involve input from 6-8 people. A week extra will rarely make a difference to the client, but to the supplier it will. For suppliers, turning out a good, appropriate and un-rushed response will give the best result.
- Telephony is not telephony
One common mistake I see a lot is people trying to re-jig the last RFP for telephony into a Skype for Business RFP. Detailing lots of programmable feature buttons on devices is not a great way of getting the most out of your RFP. The device range, vendor choice and cultural change element are all big issues in their own right. In most cases, the extensive list of ‘must have’ features is redundant and really doesn’t apply anymore. Try not to be too prescriptive, you can end up marking suppliers down for the wrong reasons.
- Incorporate Unified Communications and Collaboration
Make sure you consider not only the core functions, but the wider ranging functions too. Don’t just say, ‘must work on smartphones’; state that you have ‘ABC brand’ smartphones that must be able to have these core features. Pose the question: given the nature of your business, how can the solution help improve things? These collaboration solutions and smarter ways of working are where you will see a real return on investment.
- Don’t overdo the requirements
I worked recently for an organisation who declared over 700 requirements and another that dictated how many buttons each device was to have. Don’t just state what is best, ask the experts! That’s why you have taken the step to write an RFP. As suppliers we need to understand your business, the way you and your staff work and the business relationships. If you as the RFP writer ask for a device with 10 buttons, your supplier will have to explain that actually a different device with only 6 buttons will meet your needs better. The supplier will probably be marked down for not responding with a device with 10 buttons. Regardless of actual needs.
- Using external consultants
Using external independent consultants is fine, but be aware that a lot of consultancies who state they can write an RFP on Skype for Business still see it as a telephony platform and treat it accordingly. Some of the poorest RFPs I have experienced for Skype for Business have been written by impartial consultancies, who don’t understand the difference in product, technology or culture, and don’t see that the restrictive process is making it difficult to deliver the correct solution.
- End User Adoption
Don’t overlook the cultural changes when deploying Skype for Business. As technical professionals, it is all too easy to assume that people will understand! If you want the entire organisation to understand it and feel comfortable about letting go of a physical phone, then you need to get your Adoption programme right from the word go. Ensure user buy-in to a tool that makes their job easier, train them in the technology and bring them along through the cultural change journey.
- Art of the possible
One area I would like to see more of in RFPs is an ‘free text’ area; a space to write about trends, line of business application integration, innovation etc. Even if you place a low weighting against the topic, it is worth noting as this will become more and more important over the coming years. As services are delivered from vanilla solutions, knowing how you bring those solutions into the workplace and into the working lives of your users will become vastly more important. Think wider in terms of scope and you may be surprised at what can be achieved already.
We all know price is important, but give careful consideration as to how much importance is placed on it… remember the saying, ‘cheap is dear’. Sometimes it pays to go for the better solution or the supplier with the best reputation in the market. The stability of your solution, the innovation and the experience will lead to a quicker project delivery, with less blockers and less interruption to service. Don’t be tempted to cut corners, it is amazing how many projects we end up rescuing.
Skype for Business is about improving communications and collaboration within your organisation. It is not a telephony platform; it is not an instant messaging platform; it is a rich toolset that includes many features across a number of media streams.
Don’t fall in to the trap of overcomplicating your RFP based on the traditional way of thinking. The questions need to be open and allow for creativity; closed questions prompt closed answers. If you constrain your suppliers, you run the risk that you won’t get the solution that you actually need.