How to create a Request for Proposal (RFP)

Follow these steps to find the right ECM vendor for you

You identified your problem – too much paper, missing critical documents, compliance issues – and determined that an enterprise content management (ECM) system is the needed solution. You know that a smart, strategic solution can deliver more efficient and effective daily business processes.

“So," you’re asking yourself. “Now what?"

Now is the time to find the right ECM vendor. And a carefully constructed Request for Proposal (RFP) can help your organization unearth your vendor of choice.

Getting Started

“The most important thing you need to do before crafting an RFP is clearly identify and define your needs," says Corri North, manager, proposal services. 

If this seems a bit like a challenge, and you feel a little like you don’t know what you don’t know, don’t worry. This is common, says North, and something you can address as you build your RFP.

“If you feel like you are only scratching the surface when it comes to identifying these needs, then call this out in your RFP and let vendors help you identify other areas of your organization that will benefit from an ECM solution through their response," she says.

Once you've identified your needs, focus on the “Three Bs:" budget, backing and building your RFP team.

Your budget will help inform requested information and keep you grounded as you craft your RFP, says North. There’s no sense asking for the stars when you can only afford the moon. And no sense giving vendors the impression you can afford the stars. You’ll be disappointed when you learn you can’t engage with the vendor.

You also want backing – or buy-in – from key stakeholders, decision makers and those who will be positively impacted by the implementation. 

“Your end users – those who will interact with the system on a day-to-day basis – should be heavily involved in putting the RFP together," says North. “They are the people most affected by the current process and those that will also be most impacted upon implementation. Their input is invaluable and will lead to an easier transition once a new system is implemented."

Crafting the RFP

For many, this part of the process can be the most daunting. Crafting the RFP is an equal mix of art and science. You want to ask the right questions, in just the right way, to garner the best response. That’s the art. The science is making sure to include pertinent requests so there are no surprises after selecting a vendor.

If you have access to a sample RFP tool, this can be the perfect place to start," says North. “A lot of the work has already been done for you." 

For example, Hyland’s Sample RFP tool helps companies evaluate ECM solutions, and includes requirements that Hyland considers to be the building blocks of ECM: document management, document imaging, records management, integration, workflow, and business process management. It serves as a starting point in their ECM assessment process. Rather than create something from scratch, the tool ensures that a company’s RFP covers the basic solution requirements and more. 

“You can take it and make it your own," says North. “Work off your main problems, ensure all the requirements you need to evaluate are identified, and then ensure you are asking any other necessary questions so you can make the most informed decision about both the vendor and the product they develop."

Without fail, make sure to include these three requests, which North considers the most important requirements of any RFP:

  • References: You want third-party validation on the solution you're choosing.
  • Information on a vendor’s organization: Make sure you know how long they’ve been in the business, the company’s stability, tenure of the executive team, number of lifetime customers, customer retention rate, and so forth. After all, you want a vendor that’s more than a technology partner. You want a business partner.
  • Information on research and development: What percentage of the staff is committed to R&D? What’s the company’s monetary commitment to R&D? What’s its release cycle? Don’t settle for software that can’t evolve with your company.

Finishing up

It’s likely you’ll come up with a ton of questions and a laundry list of requirements. Just be mindful of getting lost in the weeds.

“There comes a point when you are asking for too much detail," says North. “This happens most often when disparate areas of an organization are putting an RFP together and requirements start to replicate. Make sure you’re working together and avoid silos to ensure everyone’s needs are met and voices heard while maintaining consistency across your RFP. Remember that you will be getting back twice as much, if not more, than what you are putting out."

You’ll know you’re done when the RFP team feels comfortable with what is being asked. It’s that feeling of sitting back, taking a look at what you’ve built and realizing you’ve taken your best shot at identifying the requirements you feel you need to best assess a solution.

North advises sending the RFP to three to five vendors. On average, giving vendors three weeks to respond is ideal.

Evaluating responses 

Once those three weeks have passed and your team is set to review responses, how you compare apples to oranges can be a bit of a tricky business. But North has some advice.

“The best laid out requirements should be able to be answered with a simple yes or no – either the vendor’s solution can do it or it cannot. A brief comment should be provided in areas where there truly is a shade of gray," she says.

One measure might be to consider how each company responded to its stability and experience in the industry. A lack of emphasis and prominence could be a red flag.

After review, invite the top two to three finalists to demonstrate their abilities. 

“I would also recommend paying a visit to your finalists’ headquarters to see how they do things behind the scenes, how they use their own software, and the overall atmosphere of their corporate environment," says North.

Final advice? Go for it.

“The great part about the RFP process is that it’s O.K. if you find out later that you weren't really done. You can always go back and ask for more information from vendors," says North. “They will be more than willing to answer further requests."

Ready to get started? Check out Hyland Software’s Sample RFP and let us know if you have any questions.

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