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How To Write A Good IT RFP

As a managed IT services provider and technology partner, we here at Ashton Technology Solutions respond to a variety of RFPs (Requests for Proposal) seeking technology services and solutions.  Generally speaking, these RFPs come from non-profits or public entities which have specific requirements stating that their service needs be put out to public bid.  An RFP is an easy way to let multiple vendors know of your intentions, and a properly written RFP should garner numerous responses from interested parties. The goal is to find the right provider for your needs at the right cost for your organization. The problem then comes in comparing multiple responses that, while in the same format (as dictated by the RFP you wrote), contain different pricing structures and different methodologies for seemingly the same solution.

Once your RFP for managed IT services has been created, you’ll need to get it in the right hands (prospective respondents). So, what’s the best way to go about doing that?  You might check with peers, board members of your organization, or other colleagues to find out what managed services providers they use for their non-profits or companies.  You might also share your RFP to an online portal for posting RFPs, such as the RFP Database.  Many firms subscribe to this type of site so that they can stay current with outstanding RFPs in their areas of interest or expertise. Remember to not overwhelm yourself and your team, however.  Plan to pare down the respondents to two or three, with whom you will then meet in person to make a final decision.

What Makes a Good RFP for IT Services?

To make sure you get the information you need, while also providing information necessary to provide a proposal (response to your RFP), you should provide the following items;

  • Introduce Your Organization
    • Tell us about your company/organization
    • Provide a brief history and describe what goods/services you offer
  • Review Your Current Technical Environment
    • Who currently handles your IT?  Is it in-house, outsourced, or a combination therein?
    • How many technology users do you have?
    • What does the network look like in terms of hardware (firewalls, switches, servers, PCs/laptops) and age of hardware? Be as specific as possible in terms of brands and models.
    • Are you “in the cloud”? If so, to what extent?
    • What are you using for email?
    • How are your data backups handled?
    • What software solutions are you using (i.e. Microsoft Office, line of business applications, Quickbooks, etc.)?
    • Do you have compliance requirements?
    • What is your internet connection?
    • What is your phone solution?
  • Define Your Needs
    • What are the main concerns that need to be addressed?
      • Examples may include your backup solution being inconsistent, compliance requirements from a governing body, security concerns, or general day to day technical support
    • Why are you looking for a new provider (or looking to outsource for the first time)?
    • Where is your existing solution falling short?
    • What other requirements do you have for ongoing daily support and management?
      • You might be looking for more strategy and insight from a partner, or better monthly reporting on your needs and usage.
  • Selection Criteria- What criteria will you be using to choose your provider?
    • Industry experience and/or expertise
    • Knowledge of specific hardware/software or solutions
    • Proximity
    • Ability to have staff onsite daily or weekly
    • Service level agreement (response and resolution time)
    • All of the above
  • Response Requirements
    • Format of response (i.e. PDF documents, only)
    • Contact person for questions/submissions
    • Include a timeline (date RFP is issued, final date for questions, final date for submissions, and date for decision to be made)

Things To Consider for Your IT RFP

  • A provider that has your best interests in mind will probably NOT be able to provide exact pricing based solely on the information provided in your RFP
  • If you find that providers have additional questions of you (you should always permit questions), make sure to compile a list of all questions and your answers, which is then provided to all bidding participants.
  • Make sure that you stick to your response deadline.  If you “move the goalposts” (change the dates), it’s generally seen as a move to favor one provider who just couldn’t get their homework done on time.  This is a red flag to any other respondents.

What Not To Do When Creating an IT RFP

  • Don’t put your RFP into the form of a spreadsheet- a good provider needs more information to properly provide numbers for you.
  • Don’t ask for “six hardcopies and one digital copy” of the response- does anybody really want this much paper sitting on their desk?
  • Don’t ask for hand delivered responses only- you may love the USPS, but we live in a digital world.
  • Don’t leave out specific details of your network – see #1 above- the more info you provide us, the greater chance we’ll give you the ‘right’ number, the first time around.
  • Don’t Google “RFP for IT Services”, save the .pdf you find, and change the headings to your organization’s name. RFP templates you’ll find online won’t give you what you need for YOUR organization.  If you don’t have enough knowledge of technology and your IT needs (there’s no shame in that), talk to somebody who can help you create the right RFP.
  • Don’t plan on picking your future provider based solely on information provided in their response to your RFP – a good managed services provider or technology partner is going to provide a lot of intangibles, and the decision should be based on a conversation with that provider. Picking a new partner based solely on their response to your questions, and a dollar figure therein, will lead you right back to looking for somebody that can get the job done the right way, while bringing the necessary levels of strategy and insight to your organization.

How To Pick Your Provider

Well, you’ve made it this far.  Your well written RFP for managed IT services has resulted in five or six responses of varying degrees of quality.  Now you’re trying to compare ‘apples to apples’, and figure out how the six proposals with six different numbers and six different methodologies (all seemingly directed at the same end result) stack up against one another. As mentioned above, this shouldn’t be the last step in the process, though.  You’ll be most successful in the long term if you take the time to sit down with a couple of the providers (those you feel have provided the best answers to your questions and solutions to your problems) and have a conversation.  Make it a Q&A with a few of the decision makers from your team, if that works best. But make sure to get good explanations of the pricing structure and more importantly, how the provider plans to at least meet your needs, if not exceed them.

Picking a new IT partner is never an easy thing to do, but if you’ve come this far, you clearly feel that change is necessary.  If you need help in finding the right managed IT services partner for your business, or need help in putting together that RFP, call the experienced team at Ashton Technology Solutions, at 216 397-4080.  We’d love to help you out.

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