Say NO to RFPs!

By: Carlos Morales -

I don’t know who dislikes RFPs more: vendors who have to answer them or customers who have to create them and then read all the responses. There aren’t too many things that waste more time than RFPs.

I understand the original premise of these: they were a way for a customer to define their needs and do an impartial analysis of which vendor best fits the requirements. This is no longer necessary. With websites, on-line or print product reviews, tradeshows, peer groups, Webex sessions, and product trials, it’s relatively easy to find out what solutions best meets your needs. Because of this, RFPs have morphed into one of three things:

- Documents completely tilted towards a particular vendor’s technology produced to suit a requirement that the company has to consider multiple technologies before making a decision.

- Documents outlining a wish list of technology that no vendor currently has. This puts vendors in the uncomfortable position of having to over-commit heavily on future technology just to have a chance at winning the deal. Nothing is more responsible for half implemented, unreliable features than over commitments.

- Huge documents filled with more legalize than actual technology/proposal questions. I like to call these “Big Telco RFPs.” These goliaths read more like a contract for the merger of two fortune 500 companies and usually require 10 or more people, including a couple of lawyers to get done. It’s due a week from Friday, by the way.

Why bother? A system where people simply research and choose a solution that best matches their needs would be much better. They would make the call on what to use, justify their decision to management, and be held responsible for the success of the solution. Many companies do this today and it’s far more efficient for everyone involved. RFPs should really become a thing of the past.

Comments

  1. Carlos Morales 07/11/2006, 2:26 pm

    Thanks for the comments Tom. I can’t say that I’ve read any books on the subject but I have spent a lot of time over the last few years answering RFP questions. Ironically enough, a few days after I wrote the post, I was handed an 87-page goliath RFP that’s going to consume most of my next week. You’re right, vendors hate them more.

    Regarding the remainder of your post, I don’t think that RFPs really do need a replacement. At the risk of saying exactly what you told me not to say: RFPs really are unnecessary when replaced by straight research and a few pointed inquiries.

    With a fair amount of due diligence, an enterprise should be very capable of short-listing solutions to go to trial without having to go through an arduous RFP process. Your arguments about the individual research points have some validity; however collectively, they certainly provide ample reference from which to produce a short list of candidates. From that point, one could set up meetings with the potential vendors and based on the results, short list to 2-3 trial candidates. Why waste the next few months on an RFP?

    My biggest problem with RFPs is that they don’t generally do what you stated was their main purpose: reduce the number of solutions to a manageable number before going to trial. Most RFPs that I’ve run across seem to be put together with a short list of vendors in mind and reflect that in some of the very vendor specific requirements.

    I think that I would come around to your way of thinking if RFPs were much simpler “let the experts solve my problems for me” documents. For instance, I have a pesky DDoS issue that I want to resolve. I have no idea what technologies are out there and who sells them. I put some general network information, problem description and a list of goals in the document – things like “Reduce the response time to DDoS events in my network.” I would then distribute this to different vendors and ask them to come up with a technology proposal including what products, how they would be deployed, how they would solve my problems, how they would be operationalized, how they would be supported and list pricing for everything.

    I do realize that RFPs are not going to go away despite any ground root efforts. They do have a number of ulterior motives for the customers including getting contract concessions, better pricing, and securing promises on some future technologies. I don’t see customer procurement groups giving these up regardless of the opinion of the technical personnel.

  2. Carlos Morales 07/13/2006, 8:27 pm

    I’d like at this point to clarify that my opinions don’t necessary reflect those of Arbor or its affiliates… Arbor absolutely (as Tom well knows) wants your RFPs.

    Despite the title of my original post, my point is that I feel that RFPs are more often than not a waste of time for everyone involved because they usually exhibit the bad traits that we’ve already been over. My opinion would certainly come around if I ran across a few that were more legitimate tell me what I should use and why documents.

    I think that too much of our discussion has been directed on the fact that vendors don’t like RFPs. That’s definitely true and yes, my original question about who dislikes them more has definitely been addressed.

    However, I submit that while vendors probably feel stronger about it, most customers, or at least most people involved in them within those customers, don’t like them much either.

    I’ve personally been in conversations with engineers who’ve said things like “I know what I want and I know whom I want to buy it from but I still have to go through this RFP process.” I’ve also been on the buying end of technology where I had to choose between multiple competitive solutions. I did my research, I justified my choice and I lived with the consequences of my choice. I can truthfully say that I would have been very annoyed if had been made to do an RFP for that situation. It may even have brought another solution to the table that I hadn’t considered but I don’t think it would have been worth a month of my time to find out.

    This is just a discussion about a topic most people I know have an opinion about. I hold no illusions that RFPs will ever go away. I wouldn’t mind though if they got a whole lot shorter though.

  3. I have seen a bunch of RFPs come and go with this company. Most of which were large 100-page legal documents holding your company overly accountable and the customer off the hook whenever they see fit. Most of the document has nothing to do with the tech requirements and take way too long for them to make a decision. We have dealt with some Financial companies that trial equipment after the RFP for about 4 months and even then it’s still competitive. It is never worth the time of the people involved and ends up costing the customer 5 times the price of the equipment to go this route. I think I hate RFPs more.

  4. RFPs and Marketing Agencies 08/28/2008, 2:00 pm

    Very nice. We created a post today about RFP’s. Though our angle is slightly different from this post, I think we are all responsibly looking at this practice and hopefully can shed some light on the topic for both the creator and recpient of any RFP.