Nearshore Americas

Getting Great Results From Your RFI

By Pablo Velasco, Director, TPI  and Gerardo Fernandez, Senior Advisor, TPI

The acronym RFI does not stand for ‘recipe for inefficiency’, but that’s often what it ends up being. The Request for Information is just that – but when organizations try to use the RFI as a request for proposal (RFP) or request for quote (RFQ) they get inconsistent, insufficient responses back from service providers, which can complicate the evaluation process.

When RFIs are not done right they usually need to be done over, adding delays and frustration to the project. When service providers receive poorly developed RFIs they may not think the client is serious about outsourcing – and may not assign the time, talent and other resources that the opportunity really deserves.

Right Way, Right Time

You can attract service providers’ attention and top talent, and get responses that enhance and simplify the outsourcing decision process by crafting RFIs that ask for the right information in the right way. To do that, you’ll have to ask the right questions of your organization and provide the proper level of detail in the RFI. It also helps to understand the RFI’s role and limitations. We’ll take you through these issues so that your next RFI can go to the top of service providers’ list instead of in the trash can.

Understanding RFIs and Their Role

An RFI is a formal request for a service provider to provide information about their capabilities or solution. It should be structured so that responses are consistent enough to make clear comparisons among respondents. The RFI stage is intended simply to identify service providers who are worth additional consideration for your specific project.

If you do not have a specific project, or have not decided whether to outsource or not, it is still acceptable to issue an RFI. The information it yields will help you decide whether outsourcing should be pursued. However, the RFI itself should be written to produce information about how service providers might handle a specific task or business operation (e.g. ADM support for database systems), rather than as a broad inquiry that solicits general ideas about what a service provider might be able to do for your business (e.g. “How could you improve our IT operations?”). RFIs that do not reflect clear project scope and goals are a red flag to service providers.

If you do have a specific project, it may not be necessary do develop an RFI. Project teams with clear objectives and organizational support to pursue outsourcing can begin at the request for proposal stage. When RFIs are required, small teams should be able to gather the necessary background information and draft the document in about one week; 15 days is a reasonable amount of time to give service providers to respond.

RFIs that are clear and specific enable businesses to compare service providers and eliminate those that are inappropriate for the project.

What You Need to Know Before You Write the RFI

Three elements are essential to write RFIs that get attention and results – a clear charter for the project with defined scope; specific objectives for what outsourcing would need to accomplish; and executive commitment to pursue the project. The information needed for these elements will not come from service providers’ responses to the RFI, but instead from the questions asked and strategies discussed internally before your RFI is issued.

What Separates Good RFIs from Ineffective Ones

Clarity is the most important and valuable attribute of an RFI. Documents that clearly communicate the project scope and objectives, and limit the opportunity to introduce irrelevant information about the service provider’s capabilities and experience, greatly simplify the process of selecting service providers for further evaluation.

Specificity is different from clarity and is nearly as important. Many RFIs are ineffective and require follow up requests for information from the service provider because they do not provide enough detail about the project. For example, if your project involves application development and maintenance (ADM) in a Microsoft environment, instead of asking “What IT certifications does your organization hold?” ask “How many MCAD and MCPD professionals does your organization employ, and how many years of experience do they average?” The first, general question might produce a lot of responses about Java programming, Oracle certifications or SAP expertise that are irrelevant to your needs. If you are considering outsourcing payroll processing, ask if the service provider has experience and references for your specific payroll system. You can write the RFI in a way the produces the information you need without giving away company secrets about your systems and processes.

Organizational preparedness for dealing with service providers and making outsourcing decisions is also evident in RFIs. Professional services are not a commodity, so using a general RFI document from the procurement department — the same document that might be used for suppliers of paper clips or landscaping services — signals to service providers that you may not have experience or understanding to outsource effectively. They won’t consider you a top-tier prospect, and will respond accordingly. Also be careful of updating RFIs that have been used previously, because goals and drivers change and the RFI needs to reflect what is currently important to your organization. If you are struggling to develop an RFI that is appropriate for outsourcing services, look for someone within your organization with outsourcing experience, even if it came when the person worked somewhere else. It is also appropriate to ask service providers for guidance in developing an RFI, but take steps to make sure the resulting document doesn’t give one firm an unfair advantage.

RFIs that are clear and specific enable businesses to compare service providers and eliminate those that are inappropriate for the project. RFIs that do not have these qualities result in additional, time-consuming rounds of information gathering that raise concerns among potential service providers. Most problems with RFIs occur before the document is even written. Organizations that do not have a solid understanding of their needs and goals will not be able to ask the right questions of service providers. If you ask and resolve tough questions within your organization, developing the RFI and evaluating respondents will be easy.

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Pablo Velasco has more than 35 years’ experience in outsourcing and the IT services industry. He has helped numerous clients throughout Latin America to develop outsourcing strategy, assess operations, develop statements of work, create and negotiate contracts, assess performance and develop governance processes.

Gerardo Fernandez brings more than 25 years of experience in the information technology services industry to global clients, with particular expertise advising outsourcing services buyers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. He specializes in IT outsourcing, contracting and negotiating; service management and governance; and transition and transformation services.

For more information on maximizing the value of outsourcing for your company, contact pablo.velasco@tpi.net or gerardo.fernandez@tpi.net.

Tarun George

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