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Issuing an RFP for a Notification System: Asking the Right Questions

The main purpose in issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) is to evaluate systems and capabilities by comparing and assessing vendors. Now that your organization has decided to take on this task, where do you start?  In this post, the second in our latest blog series, we’ll provide some guidance on issuing an RFP.

It seems simple. You ask a bunch of questions and vendors answer them. Easy, right? But before you start drafting your RFP, consider the importance of your purchase.

If you were buying a home for your family would you simply ask where and how much? Most home buyers want the important details—in what school district is it located, what are the property taxes, is the heating and cooling system in good working order, is it safe for the kids to play outside, how old is the roof? Those questions take in to consideration everyone who will live in the home and be affected by its purchase. Similarly, you should consider who will use and be affected by the purchase of a notification system.

Consider why you want a notification system. Is it for emergency use only, routine IT-related issues and communication, or both? Next, ask the ultimate administrators of the system what they need from a notification system and what they want to know. Now you can clearly articulate your goals in the RFP. Vendors need this information more than anything else. For example:

Organization X requires an alerting and response solution that provides streamlined notification, response, and coordination to multiple devices whenever it becomes necessary to notify employees or customers of an emergency. Organization X also needs to mobilize response teams as needed to assist in emergency situations. Organization X wishes to enter into a partnership with a vendor meeting all Organization X’s alerting and response requirements, combined with competitive rates for the solution selected. Because our success and satisfaction after any agreement is signed are of paramount importance, prospective vendors will be evaluated according to these key criteria:

• The proposed solution meets all necessary functional requirements.
• The proposed solution is competitively priced.
• The proposed solution is easy to use.
• The proposed solution is easy to implement (provide timeline/costs).
• The bidder is financially stable.
• The proposed solution includes excellent customer support.
• The bidder can provide excellent and appropriate references.
• The proposed solution has a demonstrated record of security and quality.
• The proposed solution enhances our preparedness, continuity, and general business communications.

With this clearly stated objective, potential vendors can more easily respond to the questions asked of them because they know how the system will be used by your organization and what information is most important.

Once you’ve stated your objective, start asking those questions your colleagues posed. Limit your inquiry to what really matters to your organization—is it security, scalability, speed, mobile capability?

Often a handful of questions yields a better result than asking hundreds of questions. The idea is to focus specifically on the things that matter most to your notification system users. Asking these focused questions will efficiently eliminate vendors who cannot meet your needs and illuminate the one who can.