Summer is a quieter time for school transportation (relatively, of course), so this may be the best time of year for preparing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for those technology solutions you’re considering adding to your district operations. In order to help you craft an RFP that gets you the win as much as your chosen vendor, I thought it could help to describe what happens inside the walls of a vendor company like my own when an RFP is issued.
- We decide if we’re going to respond. There are a lot complicated things to consider when responding to an RFP, but the first, most important questions we ask are: Have we been in touch with the district? What software are they considering? Have they seen a recent demonstration?
- Why this is important to you — Give some notice to the vendors you want to respond to your upcoming RFP. Stay neutral, of course, but don’t be afraid to talk to sales reps, and definitely see some demonstrations. The more information vendors have before the RFP’s “cone of silence,” the more prepared everyone will be, and you’ll see a better quality of response.
- We take a long, hard look at the specifications. Our strategy and ability to respond is directly related to our view of what the district is actually outlining as wants and needs.
- Why this is important to you — If you’ve done your homework, that’s a good thing, but try to refrain from taking every vendor’s capabilities and writing “kitchen sink” specifications. Not only will zero vendors be able to meet all of them, but it will make your life much harder trying to sort through all “yes, but only partially” explanations. Clearly stating what’s optional and including a spec table with columns for “yes,” “no,” “optional,” and “future development” will make your evaluation much easier.
- We consider demographics and important dates. How many students does this district transport? How many vehicles do they have? How many people need training? How many counties do they cover? When do they expect to begin/end implementation?
- Why this is important to you — Include this information in your RFP. If vendors have to ask and then wait for answers, they’re not spending that time crafting a quality response.
- We look at the district’s expectations. If the district transports 10,000 students and issues an RFP well into summer for every piece of transportation technology imaginable, that’s fine. But if they expect to be up and running for the start of school, it’s a red flag.
- Why this is important to you — Like anyone going into a contract, technology vendors are wary of unrealistic expectations. Likewise, you should probably be cautious with a vendor who agrees to an implementation schedule which other vendors said was unrealistic. They may be counting on you to not want to re-do the RFP process to find another vendor, even if they start missing deadlines.
- We assemble. It’s not quite as cool as the Avengers, but a lot of internal resources come together to respond to an RFP. Everyone from our legal team to our account executives, developers to project managers may contribute something to a response.
- Why this is important to you — The more time you give before the deadline, the more thorough our proposal. The more responsive you are to questions, the clearer we can be with our pricing and timelines. The last thing you want is vendors having to make assumptions about your meaning or expectations.
Lastly, pay attention to the questions that are coming through. If five different vendors ask what your implementation start date is going to be, then maybe it’s a hint that your RFP template needs a grid with important dates. If one vendor is asking detailed questions about training, then take it as a sign of their due diligence. If they’re this thorough with assembling a quality proposal, then that level of care will probably transfer to implementation and support, ensuring you get quality training (on your own data, for example) and won’t be hung up for months with software your routers are never quite ready to use.
The end result of an RFP is an awarded vendor, but unless you’re awarding the best vendor for your needs, it’s not a win for your district. You only want to make this purchase once!