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5 Tips to Build a Stronger RFP to Avoid IT Project Failure


Far too many government IT and digitization projects end up in failure, with many either delayed or canceled altogether because the budget was exacerbated. While it’s easy to look at these scenarios and point to poor technology, more often than not, it’s misalignment that starts at the procurement and needs definition stage. When this occurs, it influences the entire project and the outcomes.

To avoid failed and unnecessarily costly attempts at digitization, licensing agencies looking to modernize should first look to reimagine the procurement process starting with building a better request for proposal (RFP).

When RFPs set the stage for failure

An all-too-common scenario when it comes to IT procurement is to pull an old RFP off the shelf, update a few sections and requirements, publish it then wait to see which vendors are responsive to the specifications. The problem is, when you’re dealing with something as nuanced as digitally transforming an area of the licensing process, an RFP that lacks specific business requirements leads to unrealistic budgets and timeframes, and sets both the agency and vendor up for failure.

It also limits evaluation criteria to cost and basic solution capability, overlooking other important measures such as a vendor’s approach to, and knowledge of, integrating with legacy systems, navigating the requirements specific to the licensing industry, and implementing effective change management.

Additionally, when RFPs are based on traditional procurement policies, created when the world was paper-based, business was conducted in brick-and-mortar buildings, and interactions were in-person, they fail to account for the digital, cloud-based experience today’s customer expects. Both scenarios often result in less-than-ideal business decisions and ultimately adoption of unsuccessful digital solutions.

You have to remember, the quality of your request could affect not only a vendor’s interest but the quality of the responses you get.

Building a better RFP

If you want to position your organization to select the right partner, consider the following tips for preparing a successful licensing solution RFP.

1) Analyze and clearly define the business needs

If your organization has made the decision to put out an RFP for a licensing solution, you’ve clearly come to the realization something needs to change or improve within your current processes.

It’s now your job to clearly communicate what those needs are and where the opportunities exist within your organization. Your RFP should provide significant detail about the issues, inefficiencies, and history of your current systems or processes. A lack of context and detail will leave vendors working to fill in the gaps or result in them providing misguided budget and timeline estimates.

Vendors are working off of, and compiling solutions based on, the business needs outlined in the request. Failure to undergo a proper needs analysis and involve those on the front lines of delivery, will only lead to lackluster outcomes.

2)Involve both internal and external stakeholders

To conduct a thorough needs analysis, you have to involve internal stakeholders across all departments. From senior-level managers to frontline employees, having a range of teams involved in the RFP process offers different perspectives on operational requirements. Since a licensing solution is meant to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your entire organization, then your entire organization should be involved in the process.

Collaborating and conducting internal audits can help you build critical components for your RFP such as the capabilities your team is looking for and the greatest challenges they face.

This collaborative process is proven to provide better response rates as well. According to research by Loopio, teams are 20 to 30% more likely to be satisfied with their response rate when they involve more than 15 people in the RFP process. It also helps your team better understand what they actually do vs. what they say they do.

But developing an effective RFP shouldn’t stop with feedback from within your organization. Equally as important are the needs and goals of your customer base, because, at the end of the day, a licensing solution is meant to serve them. Take the time to understand what’s important to them and how a solution can help solve their problems. Incorporating relevant feedback into your RFP can help your organization find the right partner while also becoming more customer-focused.

3)Tailor the RFP to your organization’s processes

One of the biggest mistakes organizations can make in drafting RFPs is to broadly describe their organization and processes. Just as you want to clearly define your problems, you want to be specific about how your organization operates and what makes it unique.

You also want to fine-tune requests to align them with your specific service offerings and products. Providing potential vendors with a look into what makes you unique will help them better tailor a solution to match your needs.

You may even want to consider creating a glossary of terms or phrases related specifically to your organization. This may help keep parties on the same page and avoid a “lost-in-translation” scenario.

4)Prioritize your requirements

When building an RFP for a licensing solution, you may tell yourself that you want it all. Or that improving a laundry list of processes is the priority. In fact, a typical RFP requirement list can range from 800 to 1000 items.

The reality is, you’ll likely need to prioritize your requirements. For example, if your organization has budget constraints, having a prioritized list will allow you to make informed decisions on what to keep in scope and what to push to future enhancements. That’s ok though because rolling out a solution doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario.

Not adequately prioritizing items can also lead to significant delays and scope changes. Keep in mind, the world outside is moving forward at a rapid pace and the longer your organization takes in implementing a major overhaul, the more things on the outside will change, which can lead to the project continuously having to be redefined. Start small and start with the area that will deliver the biggest impact, prove out the use case then move onto the next highest priority.

5)Focus on the desired outcome, not the specs

Far too often, licensing organizations will focus too much on the specs of a solution or a vendor and not enough on the desired outcome. This is not what’s going to get the project over the finish line of success.

While focusing on specs is absolutely necessary for a successful RFP, your goal as an organization shouldn’t be to have a standard, prescriptive set of tools but to achieve overarching success for internal and external stakeholders.

When an RFP effectively communicates your organization’s goals and desired outcomes, it puts the onus on vendors and partners to determine the right specs and solutions for your organization.