How to create a Request for Proposal (RFP)

Find the right ECM vendor for you

You identified your problem – too much paper, missing critical documents and compliance issues. Your organization needs a tool that will not only help with these areas but also provide functionality to automate your business workflows, provide mobile access and integrate with your existing programmes/software. In essence, everything a trusted enterprise content management (ECM) system provides. You know that a smart, strategic solution can deliver more efficient and effective daily business processes.

“So, now what?" you ask. 

Now you need to find the right ECM vendor. A carefully constructed request for proposal (RFP) will help your organization unearth the best 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, senior manager of Sales Enablement at Hyland, creator of OnBase. 

If this seems like a bit of a challenge, 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. This enables vendors to 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.

  1. Budget - Your budget will keep your project on track as you craft your RFP, says North. There’s no sense asking for more functionality than you can afford or need. And there’s no sense giving vendors the impression you can afford more.
  2. Backing - You also want backing – or buy-in – from key stakeholders, decision makers and those who will be impacted by the implementation. 
  3. Building your RFP team -- “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. You want to ask the right questions to get the best responses. It’s also critical to include pertinent information that clearly states your needs 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 -capturing, managing, accessing, integrating, measuring and storing your documents. The Sample RFP serves as a starting point in your ECM assessment process. Rather than create something from scratch, the tool ensures that a company’s RFP covers basic ECM solution requirements and more. 

“Use the sample RFP tool as a starting point," says North, “and work off your organization’s pain points to ensure all the requirements you need to evaluate are identified.  Then ask any other necessary questions so you can make the most informed decision about both the vendor and their product offering."

Make sure to include these areas to gain an overall view of the vendors and products they offer.

  1. Business requirements (such as vendor experience, partnerships, personnel, references, and R&D
  2. Functional and technical requirements
  3. Implementation, support, training, and professional services

Finishing up

It’s likely you’ll come up with a ton of questions and a list of requirements.  Focus on your end goal and don’t worry about including everything – the vendor’s responses should fill in the gaps. Also, you might consider adding a paragraph to your RFP that tells vendors you are open to innovative approaches to satisfy your needs.

“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 be duplicated. Make sure you’re working together and avoid silos to ensure everyone’s needs are met and all voices are heard while maintaining consistency across your RFP. "

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 made your best effort at identifying the requirements you feel you need to best assess a solution.

We advise 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 tricky. 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.

How each company responds to its stability and experience in the industry is another measure to consider. A lack of emphasis and prominence could be a red flag.
After review, invite the top two to three finalists to demonstrate their abilities. 

“You might also consider visiting 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 OK if you find out later that you weren't really done asking questions. 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 the Hyland sample RFP and let us know if we can be of assistance to you in the process.