Swiping Municipal RFP’s from the Internet


Back CameraRFP’s Are Not Universal

by Jeffrey Morgan

RFP’s aren’t universal but County and Municipal governments frequently use another entity’s RFP in the procurement process rather than writing their own. I suppose the motivation is to save money but the probable outcome of this practice is more likely to result in a large financial loss or a difficult implementation.

I know of at least one case where an RFP that I wrote for a very successful project was “borrowed” by another County that ended up having a difficult time with their project. This is no mystery to me. I spent a great deal of time analyzing my client’s workflow, business processes, and organizational culture before writing their RFP. The other County apparently didn’t think any of these aspects would make a difference and focused on the technical specifications that I developed. However, technical specifications are only a small part of an RFP, and probably not the most important component. There are many other factors to consider.

There is nothing ethically wrong with editing and re-releasing another County’s RFP. After all, it’s a public document and no one owns the copyright. However, from a business perspective, this is a terrible practice that could result in an organization procuring a product that is totally wrong for them. Let’s take a look at two different Counties and then talk about some of the problem with swiping RFP’s from your neighbors.

Case Study: A Tale of Two Counties

Flower County

Flower County and Rock County are adjacent to each other and it is only 40 miles from one County seat to the other. Both Counties have a population of 100,000. Flower County has a large university, a community college and a significant urban center in which most of the county population lives. The County Commission is composed largely of university professors, corporate managers and retired public servants. Residents of Flower County are proud of the plethora of government services they offer to their residents. The Flower County Executive is a career public service professional with a Master’s in Public Administration and the County maintains a large Information Technology department, the members of which are all CSEA members. They have developed an extravagant, high bandwidth Information Technology infrastructure that connects all their buildings.

Rock County

Rock County is managed by a successful, retired entrepreneur. The County is decentralized, rural and has no institutions of higher learning. In Rock County, the County Commission is composed of farmers and small business owners. Residents of Rock County are extremely proud of their low taxes and are committed to maintaining a small, efficient government that provides mandated services with no frills. The County has no Information Technology department and contracts all the required services through professional services firms. Rock County has a very basic IT infrastructure with low bandwidth connectivity between buildings.

Both Counties are seeking a new ERP system. Rock County is interested in highly automated systems so they can eliminate FTE’s involved in processing financial transactions and are open to contracting as many services as possible. Flower County wants to further expand the online services available to the Community and they are willing to add FTE’s to achieve their goals. Both of these communities have the same requirements for producing federal and state financial reports and for managing their respective budgets. That’s about all they have in common.

Both Counties have committed to a budget of $1,000,000 for their software and implementation and they can both realistically achieve their goals. Is it likely these counties will choose the same vendor and suite of products to manage their finances?  Maybe, but the probability is low. If these Counties use a rigorous procurement process, their RFP’s are going to be very different. Even if they do purchase the same product, the implementation of that product is going to look very different.

Let’s Call Another County and ask them!

In County and Municipal government, one of the common “techniques” for software procurement and getting questions about business processes answered is to call up another County or City and ask how they do it. Following the pack is a popular approach. But, what if the other County or City is doing it wrong, doing it poorly or doing it inefficiently? Or, what if there are so many business and cultural differences, as in the case study above, that the other entity’s approach is just wrong for your organization?

Organizational Culture Matters

The appetite for change and internal politics in an organization can have a significant impact on the success of a project and I have written about this here. I always include a frank description of organizational culture in my RFP’s so the potential vendors have some idea of what they are getting into. If you want a project to be successful, you must account for the way your staff will behave and react during implementation. If your staff is composed of fifty-somethings who have done the same jobs for 30 years, they will certainly react in a completely different manner than twenty-somethings who are newer to their professions. Is your staff flexible or rigid? Are they open to new ideas and processes?

The skill level of your staff is also another consideration. What kind of implementation approach will be successful in your organization? An implementation approach that works for one County may not work for another and taking a cookie cutter approach is likely to create significant cost overruns.

Workflow and Business Processes Matter

A thorough Business Process Assessment is essential for a successful project. After 23 years of working with County and Municipal agencies, I have learned that everyone does it a little different. Workflow is important to consider as well. Is the vendor’s workflow flexible or is it canned? If it is flexible, how hard is it to adjust? Is your current workflow streamlined or Byzantine?

While Rock and Flower County may find different solutions to address their business requirements, the approach they take to arriving at that solution should be the same and you can read about it here.

Just Stop It!

I hope this brief discussion clearly illustrates why copying an RFP from the Internet, or basing your purchasing decision on a neighboring County’s recommendation are not sound business approaches to software procurement. Flower and Rock County are seeking to purchase an ERP solution, but they have different business goals and objectives and very different cultures. There is a high probability that these counties will make different decisions if they use a thoughtful, rigorous approach to procurement.

If you would like to discuss the development of custom RFP’s that will work for your organization, please feel free to e-mail me. Let’s talk! And for heaven’s sake, stop copying RFP’s. Write the custom RFP you deserve or contract someone to do it for you. It will save you both money and many headaches.

Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016

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