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Managing Your Municipal RFP Process For Reporting Software

Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to the procurement process for municipal software. Find out the steps you need to take.

Dylan, Founder and Managing Partner at ClearPoint, has over 25 years of experience working with organizations to improve their performance management and strategy execution processes.

So you’ve created a request for proposal (RFP) for reporting software, and you’re getting ready to send it out to your top software vendors. That’s great! (If you haven’t, don’t worry—this article will walk you through it.)

But as much as you’d like to sprint off the block and toward your goal of a “quick software implementation,” hold up for a moment. There’s something vitally important that you can’t afford to miss: define the procurement process, start to finish. This typically involves creating a schedule by which responses to your RFPs are due, then including that schedule in your RFP and sticking by it. That sounds simple enough—but anyone in local government can tell you that this process can be anything but simple.

What often happens is that the performance management office doesn’t realize how time-consuming (or in-depth) the procurement process needs to be, so they don’t budget enough time or resources. For instance, a municipality could be asking for total responses right away—within a week or so—instead of allotting a chunk of time for questions. This can lead to a big headache or worse—a software purchase from a vendor that simply can’t help you.

So here’s my point: even if you have a rock-solid RFP, you still need to ensure that your process runs smoothly. To help you out, I’ve outlined my recommended approach. Let’s take a look:

1. Response Of Interest

Once you’ve issued your RFP to the top software vendors you’re interested in, try to prompt organizations to respond with interest in the first two weeks. Most organizations will be able to respond with their interest in a much quicker time frame, but this two-week window is dual purpose—it is also used as a “question period” (which is our next step).

2. Question Period

Like I mentioned, if the vendors have any questions during the first couple of weeks, be sure to respond to them promptly and thoroughly. Anyone who responds from the vendor organization during the two-week period can be considered a point of contact; be sure to note this person’s contact information in case your RFP changes for any reason.  

For instance, let’s say I’ve received my responses, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions about training. That may help me realize that I need to put out an addendum for this RFP. Or perhaps things are so complicated that I need a separate RFP for a particular scope of work. Getting clarity now will ensure this process runs smoothly. Be sure to send all questions and answers to anyone who has expressed interest, even if they did not submit the questions.

3. Responses Due

You should probably allow 2-3 weeks after the question period for the software vendors to respond. Ideally, an RFP should require separate pricing and technical responses. It’s important to grade the responses based on predetermined criteria to narrow your choice of vendors down to a final group of 2-4.

Most responses are due at a particular time and particular location, with no exceptions. That’s fine, but if FedEx doesn’t deliver to the location, be sure to note it in the RFP. Expect quality vendors to send their responses a day ahead of time. Some organizations will review the responses to see if there are any missing parts and give vendors a chance to send in the missing pieces, so decide in advance if you want to allow for that.

4. On-Site Presentations

At this point, you can ask your favorite vendors to provide on-site presentations. (Typically, this only happens if your RFP is for more than $10,000.) The only way to fairly and adequately judge which reporting software solutions are going to work well for your business is to compare apples to apples. So, give each vendor the same example and have them use that example to demonstrate their software.

Make sure that upper management has defined the criteria by which these presentations are judged. If you skip this step, you’ll be doing your organization a huge disservice by allowing subjective judgments to creep into an important business decision.

Ask the vendor to ensure that the person who will be doing the setup and training is at (or is giving) the presentation. Give him or her the predetermined sample information for their live demo. You should use this time to not only learn about their product, but also to judge the vendor contact you’ll be interacting with regularly.

Pro Tip: If you don’t “click” with the vendor contact—or this individual seems unenthused, or simply unprofessional—proceed with caution. You want to be sure that your point of contact with the software vendor is a good cultural fit with your company! (See this article—specifically #5—for more information.)

5. Final Judgment

Once you’ve evaluated your favorite software vendors through their on-site presentations, it’s time to make your final judgment. You will need to weigh and balance price, functionality, and the cultural fit of the software company. Our suggestion is to decide upon this balance beforehand. A solid breakdown might look like:

 

  • 50% Functionality
  • 25% Price
  • 25% Software Company Cultural Fit

Eventually you’ll need to decide if the cheapest software that meets, let’s say, 80% of your needs is better than a software that meets 100% of your needs, but costs 50% more. Remember, the price may be quite appealing, but you’re going to want to know if a company founder just left, if they’re losing money left and right, or if you hated the people you interacted with. These are all signs of trouble in scorecarding paradise, and you may want to avoid working with such companies.

Is Your RFP Airtight?

The idea behind wanting to get management reporting software for your municipality is a good one. But that doesn’t mean that the procurement process is any less difficult. The last thing you want is a piece of software that doesn’t meet your needs, from a company that you’re not comfortable working with.

My final piece of advice is to make sure that this entire process is talked about, agreed upon, and added into your RFP before you send it out. If you do this, companies will understand what you require of them from the get-go. Good luck with your RFP!

Managing Your Municipal RFP Process For Reporting Software