PART I: DECODING THE RFP RESPONSE
If you’ve ever put out an RFP, you know that oftentimes, the responses you receive will be all over the map. And when there isn’t a clear standout winner, it can be tempting to simply go with the lowest budgeted bid.
But choosing based on a budget alone is the fastest way to put your agency on a path to failed implementation. We often hear from customers that budgets were tight, a vendor had the lowest bid and was awarded based on price. But in hindsight, the proposal, compared with all the others, “just seemed too good to be true.”
In our industry, if it feels too good to be true, it usually turns out to be exactly that.
Let’s look at what a good RFP response should include, and what questions might help get you to the best choice for your agency.
Below we evaluate what a good RFP should include, and questions to help guide you to the best choice for your agency in four key areas:
BUDGET / COST PROPOSAL
If you’re not just looking for the lowest number, what should you be looking for in the budget? What the budget includes and what it doesn’t.
A good budget will tell you exactly what is included in the initial implementation terms. These are things like:
- How much customization of their software to your specific needs is included in the terms? A good budget will anticipate and include the cost of taking their proprietary software and outfitting it to your agency’s specifications.
- How much will additional customizations cost, if anything? For instance, if you both already know their software lacks an essential component, will it cost you additional money for them to build it from scratch? Or are they including that in the initial bid? Not anticipating major customizations is a quick way for a budget and timeline to get off track.
- How much dedicated staff or change management leadership is included? A good budget will show you just how many staff they plan to allocate to not only the initial implementation, but the ongoing support of your software.
The first thing to look for with software–by far– is what they have delivered in the past. It is tempting to be wooed by a new vendor who says they want to get into the industry by promising to base their initial attempt at an OMS/JMS software on your needs. But the corrections processes supported by an OMS or JMS are incredibly complex. Beware of anyone who has never delivered a functioning module in the corrections industries, no matter how many promises they make.
One other vital software component to look for within a good RFP response is how they plan to deliver the software during implementation. If a partner is suggesting a waterfall approach–where they gather information, build the software, and deliver it as a whole product with little testing–RUN, do not walk! What you are looking for is a partner who is planning an agile approach. This approach allows you and your team to test the software at each incremental stage, offer feedback, and catch problems and pitfalls early on. It also allows you to actually see the product in action before it is finally ready to launch, ensuring accountability that your partner is indeed meeting their implementation milestones with a product that will meet your needs. And make sure they actually have completed a project using Agile, not just have read it in an online article.
The key component we suggest looking for when evaluating a proposed implementation timeline is how long their planning analysis will take. Where in their project plan will they be thoroughly evaluating your business practices?
Put simply, if the timeline seems too quick, this is an indication that you are expected to simply take the existing software they have and implement it according to their schedule. Not according to your requirements.
Without proper planning analysis, as well as the budgeted customizations we mentioned in the budget section, you are all but ensuring timeline and budgetary setbacks along the way. Missing a single module alone that needs to be built from scratch or completely re-worked will cost your agency somewhere in the vicinity of an extra $1-2 million and setback your timeline 12-15 months.
But what is a reasonable timeline to expect? Truly, each project is unique, and it depends on complexity, but an average, well-planned OMS system can begin seeing live usage within 24-36 months with the right partner.
Last but not least, it’s important to spot the traits that will lead to a solid foundation for ongoing partnership.
There are two big questions to ask when it comes to partnership are:
- Will our modernization project be the focus?
- Do they have experience and knowledge within the corrections industry to demonstrate they have the experience necessary to deliver?
In our next post, “Thinking Beyond your RFP,” we will delve more deeply into traits that demonstrate a good long-term partnership. But when thinking initially about a vendor's RFP response, the above questions will help you look for whether their staff already seems stretched thin, with you never being able to reach the same person twice, or whether you seem like a priority, and they stand ready to turn their focus specifically to your project.
It’s also important to again name the complexities that exist when implementing an OMS software, and if a vendor lacks significant industry knowledge and experience, there is almost no way they will be able to deliver within the budget or timeline they are suggesting.
In summary, regardless of whether a budget is high or low, one that includes these red flags are ones to avoid:
- Budget that does not include customization of software exactly to your specifications
- A waterfall approach to software development and delivery
- Timeline that does not include specified time to analyze your business practices or seems highly unrealistic
- No industry knowledge or experience
And a GOOD RFP response and budget will include:
- Budget includes customization of their software to your exact specifications
- An AGILE approach to software development and delivery instead of a waterfall approach
- Timeline includes specified time to analyze your business practices in anticipation of incorporating them into the final software
- Documentation of extensive industry knowledge and experience
Stay Tuned for Part II: Thinking Beyond your RFP