10 Steps to Writing an Effective RFP for IT Services
Writing a Request For Proposal (RFP) for Network and IT Services can be a daunting task when you’ve not gone through the process before. As experienced IT Managers know though, a top-notch RFP is the first step to locating and establishing a relationship with a top-notch IT vendor that will be able to provide solutions for your specific needs, on time and on budget.
Use the following outline to guide you through creating a thorough and specific RFP that enables IT vendors to present relevant and comprehensive proposals tailored to your organization’s needs. The outline is organized in three sections: Getting to Know You, Proposal Scope, and Vendor Selection.
Being transparent and concise will communicate to vendors what is important to you, so you will end up with a better arrangement once you have selected an IT partner and begin moving forward. Let’s get started.
Basic Outline For Your RFP
Getting to Know You
1. Request Overview
The request overview should be a high level, brief synopsis of the services you are looking for from an IT vendor. Examples could include, XYZ Corporation is seeking an IT organization to provide IT software and hardware support services. Or XYZ company is requesting proposals for a single organization to provide IT services managed over a five 5-year period. You will get into the details later, so here you want to be brief and straight to the point.
2. Company Introduction
The company introduction should also be relatively brief. Without getting too detailed, you want to give enough information so that someone who has never heard of your company will be able to gain a good sense of who you are. 1-2 paragraphs is sufficient and should include your company’s revenue range, founders, founding date, current size, location and sector or industry.
3. Existing Technical Environment Overview
Here you will want to list all the existing IT systems currently in place. If the list seems exhaustive you may want to break it down into categories such as Servers & Workstations, Telecommunications & Networks, and Devices.
4. Service Requirements
This is where you will get into detail about your goals and priorities. While your main objective as listed above may be to hire an IT company that can provide managed services over 5 years, you likely have specific projects and goals you would like them to accomplish within those 5 years. List those here and give a brief (one sentence) explanation for each. For example:
- Enterprise Backup: Forming and executing a backup plan for the critical servers including a regularly tested recovery process.
- Lifecycle Management of Hardware Units: Advice for end-of-life notification, replacement, and asset decommissioning/disposal etc.
5. Company Requirements
If you have specific requirements related to the company structure or functioning or require that certain information be disclosed be sure to list it here. Things such as the company must be based in the U.S., or the company must meet certain requirements to allow your organization to maintain certain regulatory requirements including ALTA, PCI-DSS, HIPAA, GLBA, will set standards from the get go and weed out any providers who cannot comply with all of your requirements.
Budget is important for the same reasons that company requirements are. If an IT service provider cannot meet your budget requirements, there is no use in them spending time on a proposal. Furthermore, providing a budget allows companies to compete for your business on the same playing field. While you may not know exact figures, giving at least a range helps companies determine if they are able to bid for your project and if so what priorities from your list of service requirements they are able to complete within the allotted budget. You should also list any specifics related to budget such as billing cycle, flexibility, or separate budgets that were not included in the overall figure.
7. Criteria for Selection
You will be evaluating companies based on a set of criteria. List those criteria here so vendors are able to see what they will be judged on and what is most important to you. This should be a high level bulleted list that includes things such as Industry Experience and Expertise, Previous Client Reviews, Reporting Capabilities, etc.
8. Proposal Requirements
Here you want to list any and all questions that you need answered by prospective vendors, including how you would like the proposal structured and any ancillary details you require such as contact person and client references. Questions could include:
- Are quarterly review options available?
- What is your internal client network review policy?
- What options are available for user training and technical training that may be required by our staff if needed?
9. RFP & Proposal Timeline
This section will reiterate the RFP deadline and lay out all the dates for the RFP and proposal process including when vendors will hear back and anticipated start dates for service. If you have specific instructions on how you would like the RFP delivered, such as via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by XX/XX/XX or are requiring vendor presentations, include that information and dates in this section. Also, be sure to reiterate your point of contact in this section.
10. Non-Disclosure Agreement [if applicable]
Depending on the industry, some companies will have an NDA. Include that at the end along with any other legal or compliance considerations.
Getting Your RFP into the Right Hands
You may have a short list of companies in mind that you would like to send your RFP to. But in order to ensure you have a well rounded list and are pulling from the best pool of IT service providers, do a little research.
- Conduct a pre-emptive Q&A: Prior to sending out your RFP, conduct a Q&A period with your list of providers. This will better ensure that nobody’s time is wasted and will let you explain what your objectives are along with the timeline.
- Don’t Paralyze Yourself with Too Many Choices: Sometimes too many choices can have the opposite effect that one might expect, leading to information overload and causing you to overlook important details or confuse specifics as you sift through so much information. Narrow your starting IT service provider list down and you won’t overwhelm yourself with options.
- Ask for Recommendations: Word of mouth is one of the most common and best ways of finding reputable vendors with a track record of success. Remember, some RFPs will be more detailed than others, but the more concise and relevant information you include the better the odds are that you will receive thorough proposals that include all the required information and more in return. Don’t be afraid to show your company’s personality and be transparent. The RFP stage is the time to put it all out on the table and ask as many questions as necessary to ensure you choose the best provider and start off your IT partnership on the right foot.