Okay, RFPs don’t ALWAYS suck, but I wanted to get your attention. Read on.

We see RFPs that we consider pursuing occasionally. Some appear to have fantastic opportunities behind them, but they often have the whole process backwards.

To illustrate, imagine you had some rare, life threatening condition. You obviously would be in need of some specialized and highly valued health care. How would you go about getting that health care? Most people would seek out the guidance and expertise of specialists who would design a specific treatment plan for their condition. Ideally, that health care professional would also lead them through the implementation of that care and probably continue to be there over the long term for ongoing check ups (where necessary).

So, why do companies choose to direct their own technology treatment plan? Isn’t that what an RFP typically is? A company uses the RFP to document, in fine detail, technologies required. Imagine doing this with health care specialists. Imagine asking three specialists to submit their price and specs for your solution by a specified date, all why controlling, limiting and/or distorting the normal initial consultation process. I’m not saying that the business decision makers should never be involved in making technology decisions. Typically, it is inefficient for business decision makers to lead and define the technology solution on their own.

Equally important, doesn’t the company requesting the RFP limit their options by narrowly defining the technology requirements without first choosing the company that is the best choice for their IT partner long term? There are almost always several technology solutions to get a single, specific business end result. If you define the technology solution instead of the required end result, you eliminate the providers that don’t supply that specific solution, but do have an equally-excellent alternative solution? If you want 10, is it an absolute that you add 1 and 9? What if the best vendor for the company only provides 2 + 8 (and they do it better, faster and cheaper)?

And trust me, the best vendors do not – DO NOT – provide all possible solutions, by necessity. The best can’t do everything for everyone (a good sign that you don’t have the best is they offer “and a whole lot more”).

Furthermore, how can the vendors who bid on these RFPs be confident that their implementation of someone else’s solution is going to be successful? What happens when they get half way done (or worse yet, completely done) and discover some critical piece of the puzzle wasn’t considered in the original design of the solution? Can the vendor avoid owning that problem to some degree? No way. They are the professional after all! At very least, a chunk of IT budget that could have been spent more productively is wasted on a reworking of the initial, flawed solution.

High level RFPs can work. A progressive business can think through their BUSINESS needs and define specific parameters around the relationship they are looking for. Hint: these aren’t 20/50/180 page documents. It can be dangerous when the patient starts dictating the treatment to the doctor before they even meet. So, what is your RFP really doing?