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Next time you're buying, try the RFI process.

The next time you are letting a project out to bids, consider the RFI (request for information) or RFR (request for recommendation) routes.

Both the RFI and the RFR have a different approach to the needs-assessment phase than the traditional RFP process. Both begin with a general description or narrative concerning the business goals and objectives of the organization.

Such a description includes methods of handling customers and established service goals of the organization. It might include a description of how telecomm is conducted in the organization.

This data is then provided to numerous potential suppliers. They, in turn, have opportunities to make presentations to the potential purchaser and ask organization-specific questions that help design telecomm equipment to the desired applications.

This whole concept is predicated on a supplier's ability to understand the business needs of a user and meet them.

This overcomes two disadvantages to the traditional RFP approach. First, and most importantly, with traditional RFP processes, the buyer--no matter how knowledgeable--is basing a purchase of new technology on experience with old technology. This weakness leads to evolutionary rather than revolutionary change in customer service.

Second, RFPs generally do not give suppliers enough opportunity to have input into the specification process. Innovative ideas that the purchaser might not have considered can be overlooked in this "closed" approach.

What to include

Data for an RFI can include business goals and telecomm practices, and it can take many forms. Descriptions can be put into flow charts. Include data on how auxiliary equipment (such as voice mail, automatic call distributors and voice response units) is used--or not used.

Data describing user satisfaction levels with the current telecomm systems should also be included. Provide information on those users both inside and outside the organization. The exercise of gathering this information will be enlightening for both purchaser and supplier.

Supplier presentations will give both competitive information and application-oriented knowledge.

At this point in the process, a response to the RFI is submitted by suppliers. This might or might not contain pricing info. However, it should include a recommended configuration for the purchaser's new telecomm system.

Based on the purchaser's analysis of this information, a finalist or group of finalists can be chosen.

It is at this stage of the process that the traditional RFP proves valuable. I recommend that the purchaser and supplier develop a RFP that includes the standard contractual language based on the configuration put forth by the supplier in response to the RFI or RFR.

This approach provides the best of both worlds to the purchaser: a telecomm system that meets business objectives, and control over the supplier that would be lacking without a traditional RFP.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:RFP/RFQ; request for information
Author:Berkowitz, Charles F.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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