Death by RFP
Leo Berz December 22, 2014

It's 4:14 on a Friday afternoon and you just received an e-mail containing the RFP you were excepting
two months ago.  Upon opening it you realize that it is 127 pages long, includes 565 questions, and
is due back in 12 business days.  Sound familiar; anyone who has ever received one of these is now
recalling that all too familiar pit in their stomach and the angst of telling their spouse that their plans
for the following weekend have just changed?   While some (obviously not those on the receiving end)
might ask “what's the big deal, vendors should be happy for the opportunity”, they fail to realize how
counterproductive these unnecessary exercises really are. ​Now don’t get me wrong, there are times,
(such as complex outsource agreements) when the RFP needs to be that thorough, but the true value of a procurement project is in the actual results, and not the word count or weight of the requirement document.

​After spending over 30 years on both sides of the table, I have come to appreciate the concept of K.I.S.S, Keep It Simple (you know the rest) when it comes to procuring telecom services.   Here are what I consider to be the five cardinal rules of telecom procurement.

Be Prepared
Do your homework upfront and figure out exactly what you need before writing the RFP in the first place.  If you don’t know what you need, how can you expect the bidders to pitch their best service or even quote a realistic price?  We all know of countless examples where the winning bidder was not able to deliver or properly support the needed service at the quoted price.  You might consider releasing a Request for Information when looking at a new technology or one that you not as familiar as you would like to be as your initial step.

Avoid Excess Bundling
Don’t give into the temptation of bundling too many services into a single procurement process.  Services from all providers fall into one of three buckets, services that they do well, services they do poorly and services they don’ t do at all.  By bundling too many services together you are forcing the bidders to include their poor services, and in many cases, services that will be delivered via a poorly crafted 3rd Party agreement.  If you want a “Best in Class” network, you must have “Best in Class” providers in their respective sweet spots.  While this approach may require contracting with multiple providers, it will reduce your stress level and, just maybe save your job to boot.

Size Matters
The complexity of your requirements document should be directly proportional to the complexity and maturity of the services your wish to procure.  Example:  An MPLS RFP I put out 10 years ago was considerable more detailed than one I would release today; if a provider needs to be educated on the technology by your RFP, they should not have been considered in the first place.

You Can't Have It All, (Unless That's What You Really Need)
Separate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves” before you release your RFP.   Even with mature products that are a commodity, (I the using that word for telecom) different providers have differences in their capabilities and cost structures.  Taking the time to complete this task will allow you to zero in on a provider or offering that more closely aligns with your needs and without having the shell out extra money for features few might use.

Create a Winning Environment

Help your bidders put their best foot forward so they can earn your business.  The most effective way to do this is to make sure they have a clear understanding of your requirements and are personally vested in the deal.  This is best accomplished by coaching each bidder during the entire process (which starts several weeks prior to the release of the actual RFP).  You know what each Bidder needs to do to win, so be upfront and tell them.  This does not imply that you share other bidder’s information or proposed price points, or that you pick the winner upfront.  On the contrary, you treat all bidders with the same level of respect and integrity and, let the winning Bidder pick themselves.  Heeding this advice will also go a long way to building a true partnership that will continue to pay off long after the ink has dried.