A request for proposal (RFP) is a formal document used for obtaining quotes for products and services, such as the purchase and implementation of CMMS software, related third-party software, mobile solutions, hardware, and re-engineering services. The RFP process is time-consuming when done properly but well worth the investment given the reduced risk and superior pricing that is made possible.
The objective of the RFP is to describe to prospective vendors, in as much detail as possible, your business, your business requirements, how the RFP process will be conducted, and what information you expect from the vendor. Key components of a typical RFP are shown in the following sample table of contents:
- RFP Objectives
- Overview of ABC Company
- The Case for Change
- The CMMS Implementation Project
II. The RFP Process
- Timetable for Submission and Evaluation
- Vendors' Briefing
- Questions Concerning Requirements
- Proposal Submission Requirements
- Evaluation Criteria
- Evaluation Procedure
- Response Format
III. ABC Company Technical Environment
- Current Network and Operating Environment
- Relevant Hardware Inventory
- Software Applications Inventory
- Database Structure and Flow
- Future Plans
IV. ABC Company Business Environment
- Organizational Structure
- Scope of Work
- Employee Totals by Functional Areas and Roles
- Application Volumes and Workload
V. Mandatory Proposal Response Content
- Vendor Company Information
- Vendor Product and Hardware Information
- Vendor Technical Requirements
- Vendor Implementation and Support Services
- Vendor Pricing
VI. ABC Company Business Requirements Content
- How to Respond to Requirements
- ABC Company Detailed Specifications
- Vendor Response Forms
- Terms and Conditions
Most RFP documents have the components above, or at least some variation on the theme. The component which requires the greatest effort to prepare is by far the detailed specifications. This component outlines expectations as to what the CMMS needs to do to satisfy business requirements — for example, “Ability for the CMMS to display a schedule of in-process work orders, including revised hours by craft to completion, or percent completion.” Each specification is weighted, and vendor responses are compared and rated as to how well they achieve the business need.
Some specifications may be mandatory criteria, such as “Must be able to run in a Unix environment.” However, mandatory criteria should be used very sparingly since they imply that vendors that are non-compliant will not be considered further, no matter how well they meet all other criteria.
Below are some simple guidelines for writing an effective RFP.
- Size does not matter. Write a formal RFP document regardless of the size of your company. Smaller companies may have fewer pages, but they will cover the same ground as larger companies. At the very least, writing an RFP will ensure that you more fully understand what you really need as opposed to what is “nice to have,” thereby allowing you to better evaluate vendor options.
- Time does matter. Allow about four months for preparation of an RFP and at least three months for the selection process. Although you can certainly take less time than these estimates, you may pay a heavy price in terms of increased risk of failure. This is because you need adequate time to discuss requirements with multiple stakeholders within your company and build early acceptance and ownership for any contemplated changes.
- Clarity and detail are your best friends in order to minimize misinterpretation of your requirements by prospective vendors. For example, instead of a requirement such as “ability to track contract maintenance,” a more suitable requirement description might be “ability to track contract maintenance through a separate comprehensive module that accounts properly for the contractor purchase order and retains separate history of labor hours and other resources utilized such as special equipment at true cost/hour and material used by contractors at true cost.” If requirements are not clear, then the CMMS vendor will assume you do not yet know what you want and accordingly will raise the price to reflect the greater risk and uncertainty.
- Describe your company in sufficient detail such that the vendor can determine if there is a good fit with the CMMS solution and thereby provide more accurate pricing. This includes the number and type of company sites, assets, processes, potential users and their roles, legacy systems, and current and future interfaces. Diagrams describing your technical environment and tables listing existing resources are extremely useful for the vendor. If you are worried about providing too much information, then get each vendor interested in bidding to sign a non-disclosure agreement before receipt of your RFP.
- Avoid company lingo such as site-specific three-letter acronyms (TLAs). Any acronym should be written out in full, at least the first time it is mentioned in the document.
- Use plenty of examples in the main text, supplemented by exhibits where appropriate, to help explain your requirements.
- Provide a glossary of terms that includes definitions, formulae, examples, and any references. Even if you think a term is obvious, err on the side of including it in the glossary. Surprisingly, definitions are not as common as you might think. For example, what is preventive maintenance (PM)? Does PM include condition inspections? What about the fix if equipment is found broken on an inspection? What if the equipment operator lubricates or makes an adjustment to the equipment?