Developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for ECM can be quite a daunting task, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be technical. Over the years, I’ve read and responded to hundreds and seen resulting implementations (if they move to purchase software). I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas for writing a proposal that will get you the ECM implementation you need.
Identify the problem you are trying to solve- Do you have too much expensive storage space occupied by banker’s boxes? Do you find citizen services conducted on paper limiting? Do you have to run parallel processes (digital and paper) to capture all the required information? Please know that vendors do not expect the RFP to offer the solution to the problem—the solution is for the vendors to propose. It is appropriate for the agency, however, to clarify the issue. Over the years, I’ve seen agencies point to a problem that isn’t the problem. For example, the city wants to get rid of their paper. Great, except the real problem, is that they needed to redo their retentions, digitize their records then automate the records lifecycle. Here are a few ideas for problem-solving:
Differentiate fact from opinion
Specify underlying causes
Consult each faction involved for information
State the problem specifically in detail
Identify what standard(s), rule(s), or expectation(s) are violated
Determine requirements. Understand nice-to-have from must-have
Research any upcoming compliance mandates
Determine in which process the problem lies
Collect and present all possible data
Consider your budget - Your budget will keep your project on track as you draft your RFP. There’s no sense in asking for more functionality than you can afford or need. And there’s no sense giving vendors the impression you can afford more.
Ask other departments to participate- While you might be a deputy city clerk who wants ECM for records management, there are loads of different processes within your agency that could benefit from ECM. Plus, having buy-in from multiple departments is never a bad idea. And if you are not in IT, make sure to include them as they will have their own set of standards for applications that run on the agency network. The reason it’s essential to gain participation before writing the RFP is because it helps the vendor determine the scope and timetable of the project and accurately quote pricing. One caution, there may come the point when you are asking for too much detail. This happens most often when disparate areas of an organization are putting an RFP together, and requirements start to be duplicated. Make sure you’re working together as a team to ensure everyone’s needs are met while maintaining consistency across your RFP.
Talk to other agencies before you release the RFP about what ECM product they use and why- It’s valuable to do some intelligence gathering before you start writing your RFP. Try calling neighboring agencies or leverage your professional associations or network. Have a list of questions ready other than “how do you like X for ECM?”If you are buying from a service provider/partner (rather than directly from the ISV), ask questions about the partner’s services, how quickly they return to support calls, are you stuck dealing with a junior tech, training, company viability, etc.? This research is helpful because you don’t just depend on positively biased references. I have found the municipal market to be very generous in sharing their experience. In addition, ask them for a copy of their RFP. You can use the RFP as a starting point and work off your organization’s pain points to ensure all the requirements you need to evaluate are identified. T
As a part of the RFP, be sure to ask for complete resumes from the implementation team. ECM has been in existence since the late ‘80s, so the partner you choose should have a deep bench of experienced staff. And because ECM doesn’t exist in a vacuum, you’ll want to note integration, customization, and app development skills.
One of the positives about the RFP process is that it’s OK if you find out later that you weren't done asking questions. This happens more often than not. You can always go back and ask for more information from vendors. We will be more than willing to answer further requests.