RFP Rant

Hand - worked to bone.

I'm responding to my 6th RFP in a week and a half, and I've drawn a few conclusions that may help librarians get more respondents when they put something out to bid, or if they're not interested in that, make responses arrive faster, in order to keep within decision making deadlines (which, IMHO, are often missed.) These are ways to make the process of responding more practical, and will garner better responses from vendors (excluding those nasty uncaring vendors that just send back prices and a brochure)


Y'know we don't compose these things extemporaneously. You provide a framework. If that framework is purely paper, you double our task - right there - I type like Mickey Spillane, two fingers - and for me to retype your intended configuration of my equipment, or to spend half a day OCRing your "printed only" RFP, you only hurt yourself by curtailing the amount of time for us to get a richer, more meaningful response to you.



They are usually intended for read only, and cannot be easily copied and pasted into a response document - hence it's damn close to "printed only". If you want better faster responses, use MSWord, Google docs, or note pad, for that matter.

BUT if you use .pdf to protect yourself from underhanded sneaky evil crafty duplicitous vendors, ask yourself what your purchasing department is for - wait don't bother - I'll tell you - it's to protect you by archiving the original document, which come to think of it, is something YOU can do!

If one of LAT's competitors monkeys around with your words (!), REJECT THEIR PROPOSAL! Theoretically you are so protected, it's like you have giant purchase insulation strapped to every surface, innit?


Howdja like to work on something for 2 days, print and bind it, just to find in the middle of a hugely legalese laden page, in the middle of a hugely legalese laden paragraph something like "technical responses must be limited to 20 pages". Hello, technical department, how are you? (See #6)

Every proposal I get has something like "So-and-so library reserves the right to reject any submission for.........uh.......whatever ....vendor-monkey!

So you don't have to get all 19th century when artfully describing in lawyer language that(for instance) a proposal is due July 12th. Just bullet what you want.



-Proposal due July 12th
-42 copies (see #4)
-One copy must be marked original
-Original must be signed by officer of company
-Original must be notarized
-Appendices C and D must accompany submission and be signed (original only)

...as opposed to burying these rules in paragraph after paragraph of 1950's boilerplate.

Don't get me wrong - boilerplate away, just add the bullets.


Stop making Iron Eyes Cody cry with all the tree killing. Seriously.

Archive 1 or 2 copies. Read the rest electronically. These things run up to a hundred pages. I recently shipped nearly three reams of paper as a response. I can only hope that 11 or 12 of those librarians have parakeets, so they can line their birdcages with those (possibly-unread) copies.


Want a demo? Calculate how many thousands of pounds of Jet-A fuel gets blown into the atmosphere in it's carbonized polluting form to send a rep to see you. Then do that same exercise again for the equipment you want shipped.

To see if it's really gonna do what we say.

Despite you being protected by our integrity, videos we've produced, your purchasing team's rules, and any number of referrals we can provide.

As we do the demo, please remember that the particulate matter showering down upon you is your own.

If you really want a demo, however, we're more than happy to do it. Especially if your town is beautiful, and the food is good. Believe me, I love doing demos, because I am a frustrated star. I'll do 'em, but I'm just thinking of our mother.


When I get to the sixth "Describe how receipts can be customized" in an RFP I punch the wall- as a result I can now have conversations with technical staff in the next office.

Seriously, I know there's gotta be bad actors out there, but it's 2008! Receipts can be customized. It's dumb technology. Every Home Depot, ATM, Grocery, and LIBRARY SELF CHECK has customizable receipts, and while LAT's may customize a little better (and they do - ask me why!) I don't think any deal I ever lost impinged on whether receipt customization descriptions were filled out 6 times or not.

So next time, when:
Media Services
Collection Management
Children's Services
The Director
The Assistant Director
The Board
and Aggregators
...all want to know about how receipts are customized, please PLEASE just ask the question once.

(on a related note, I always love it when in an RFP a feature is listed under both "MUST HAVE" and "OPTIONAL FEATURE" - nobody's really reading what's going out, are they?)

Now I know I harped on about receipts, but the duplication of all features questions is out of control. Read through what you send, once, de-duplicate features requested, and then send it, K? Love.


Every question in existence does not have to be asked for CYA purposes. Money Back Guarantees can be negotiated, if the vendor in question does not already have one, your city purchasing disclaimers protect you most of the time, and regular old expression of intent to not brook bad performance usually does the trick.

This saves vendors the task of writing (or searching out, copying, pasting and formatting) a paragraph long description of what the power cord on the unit you intend to buy is made of, looks like, and it's projected lifespan.


I know it's sounds cool to say "RFPs will be Opened on Such-and-such a date at 12:00 noon" but y'know what? That means I have one less day to get it there. Even FedEx priority doesn't fully guarantee that - at least not to the degree that it gives me any confidence (having been told "tough luck" by FedEx a few times...)

Open proposals at 4:00 PM. It makes sense. I know "noon" gives you a feeling like you're at a ribbon cutting ("noon" "high noon" "Noon-on-the-dot" "we shall accept no proposal past noooooooon") but from a purely bureaucratic perspective, it's a stupid deadline in a fast paced next-day-delivery America. 4:00. Better.


Hey- I said it was a rant! I think the thing you folks should remember is that you're the last bastion in a failing society, fighting for freedom of speech, and making sure Americans lives are enriched, and a guy couldn't ask for a better bunch of customers. Honest. So if I'm like a Dutch Uncle with this rant, it's just to point out some Earth-saving, response-improving, common sense behaviors when sending out an RFP.


Anonymous said...

Ha ha, this is good!! Lightened up my (bidwriting) afternoon...

Anonymous said...

We know, we know, we know. And we're sorry. But some of these things are unavoidable due to overseeing government entities. I look forward to sharing this with blog posting with them!

A guilty (but repentant) librarian

Anonymous said...

Everything you wrote is true... if the reason for an RFP is primarily to gain information. But that isn't the purpose (we could get that off of your website :-). No, RFPS exist for one reason - process. For staff participating in the decision, for legal folks wanting to make sure the Library is "protected", for Administrators wanting everyone to know they did "due diligence". Alas, information is way down the list.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for a software company that responded to state and federal government RFPs, but I got better. (And am now in library school.)

So: I feel your pain. And, when I am a big all-growed-up librarian, I will endeavor to write plain-English, sensible RFPs that don't specify anything as both "required" and "optional feature." (It's called COPYEDITING, people.)

Anonymous said...

Also... Please please don't issue an RFP with seventy identical questions for each branch of your library. And require answers in a document with locked fields, so that each answer must be copied individually, one by one by one... Please.