U.S. cities and counties strive to improve mission critical communications, but selecting a land mobile radio system or a new Long-Term Evolution (LTE) system that is cost-competitive and meets current and future operational requirements can be a formidable task. This daunting effort is born out of technology evolution—modern digital radio systems are more advanced and complex, which enhances communications functionality, but also complicates design and implementation. For this reason, public agencies frequently hire consultants via the Request for Proposal (RFP) process to navigate the complexities of new system technologies, vendor competition, and long-term, multi-faceted project management.
When it comes to public safety communications systems, it may seem easier to use a sole-source system procurement to obtain a new radio system versus conducting an RFP process to select a qualified consultant. However, obtaining experienced professional project support helps avoid common missteps and can save millions of dollars, as illustrated in Rockwall County, Texas recently.
RFPs are a standard process for hiring consultants; however, approaches to developing consulting RFPs vary greatly with mixed results. RFPs can be tedious to write, but the truth is that a project actually begins with the first written word of the RFP. If an RFP contains tailored, precise project information, then it establishes a project pathway that can lead you to professional consulting support that can help deliver a leading edge, cost-effective system.
5 Essential RFP Development Tips
Your English teacher was right: outlines guide writing for clear section organization, thought clarity, and complete discussions. Poorly developed RFPs are confusing, which complicates responses and the related consulting firm evaluations. Agencies should customize outlines for each project, but public safety consulting RFPs should generally include these sections in this order:
- Table of Contents
- Purpose of the Project
- Project Background
- Current System Environment
- Goals and Objectives
- Terms and Conditions
- Required Scope of Work & Deliverables
- Response Content, Procedures & Format
- Printing and Binding Format for the Proposal
- Overview of the Firm and Proposed Project Team
- Project Work Plan and Deliverables (Scope of Work)
- Project Timeline
- Reference Projects and Contacts
- Professional Fees and Expenses
- Exceptions to RFP
- Sample Contract for Consideration
To save time during RFP preparation, many public agencies “recycle” or cut-and-paste language from an old RFP instead of starting fresh. The result is often a disjointed RFP that contains a vague description of the new project’s scope, jumbled section numbering, contradictory information, inappropriate terms and conditions, unreasonable timelines and excessive requirements. As a result, the responding consultants make assumptions about the actual scope of work requirements, which can lead to extra costs, proposals for unnecessary work, and ultimately, a project that does not meet expectations.
Remember the outline? Develop it, use it, and rely on it to prepare an RFP that accurately reflects needs, goals and expectations for the current project.
Consulting and engineering services are different. Consulting services analyze a client’s communication system and goals and provide expertise and opinion on how to configure a system upgrade or replacement system for optimal capabilities. Engineering services take that a step further by providing greater depth and knowledge surrounding project issues that are important to the city or county. Once this distinction is made, continue to focus respondents by requesting the following:
- Years in business providing the required services
- Annual revenue/audited financial statement
- Number and location of company offices
- Number and location of full-time, experienced personnel
- Experience in similar projects
- Relevant registrations, certifications and credentials (e.g., PE, PMP,ISO 9001:2015)
- References and past record of performance
Consulting RFPs often contain more project phases and deliverables than necessary, which increases consulting fees and extends the project schedule. Experienced consultants can typically guide a client through a successful communications project in three logical phases, which simplifies the RFP scope and responses:
- Phase I – Needs assessment, development of conceptual system alternatives and cost estimates and preparation of the Phase I report of findings and recommendations
- Phase II – Development of system specifications (RFP), evaluation of vendor proposals, vendor selection, and contract negotiations, and
- Phase III – System implementation, acceptance testing, and system cutover.
Picking a consultant or engineering firm is easier when respondents know how agencies will score proposals and weigh each evaluation item. With this insight, respondents will know where to focus their discussion, what information to include and exclude, and whether to even respond if a firm cannot show expertise in all evaluation items. Sharing the selection criteria helps responders simplify and focus their RFP responses, which makes it less cumbersome for agencies to compare the quality of the firms and the strength of their approaches.