When evaluating many types of products and services, companies or organizations sometimes use an RFP (Request For Proposal) / RFQ (Request For Quotation) process. There are challenges associated with the RFP / RFQ process, such as the length of time it can take, its complexity, and more. Many companies steer clear of using RFP / RFQ processes precisely for the reasons mentioned above, and a whole host of other issues that are not the subjects of this article.
Just writing an e-Learning / Learning Management Systems RFP / RFQ can be a pretty daunting job. The task of putting together a good e-Learning RFP / RFQ is exacerbated because Learning Management Systems software and e-Learning Solutions can possess many layers of complexity, especially when they are developed to integrate with and meet the needs of your organization’s information technology backbone.
Communicating your company’s needs is often difficult. The tips below are by no means exhaustive, as they are designed to give you some suggestions and information to help you with writing an e-Learning / Learning Management System software RFP / RFQ.
1. You and your company should perform a thorough internal and external needs assessment, research, and planning long before you sit down to write your e-Learning / Learning Management Systems RFP / RFQ. A whitepaper I wrote a few years back, called ‘e-Learning Best Practices’ that is available at http://www.syberworks.com/articles/Bestpractices.pdf. It has a section on ‘Scoping Out your e-Learning Needs’, and other information, which will provide you some information and guidelines for this part of the process.
2. If at all possible, try to write it within the context of a team or at the very least, get a colleague, your supervisor, or you assistant to be another set of eyeballs on the document. RFP / RFQs can have a tendency to be long, complicated, and involved documents, so having someone else to review your work, can be very beneficial. It’s even better when one or more of the principle stakeholders help with the writing of the e-Learning / Learning Management Systems RFP / RFQ.
3. Provide a company background statement that is specific and gives potential vendor companies information that is useful. It’s fine to pull your company background statement from your marketing material, but don’t stop there. If your e-Learning initiative will serve several departments, it might be a good idea to provide some sort of an organizational framework in your RFP / RFQ with a little history to help fill in the pieces of the puzzle.
4. Supply a statement of work that is specific and gives potential vendor companies information they will need. Sometimes a company will cut and paste their training department’s goals and objectives into the statement of work. While this is helpful information to a point, too much information of this type may throw a potential vendor off course, which may result in you receiving proposals that do not meet your needs.
The problem is that people can have the tendency to lump goals, objectives, and tactics in the same category, but ultimately, they are not the same. There is a difference between a set of tactics verses a set of objectives verses a set of goals. A group of tactics can be the mechanism by which an objective is achieved. Objectives can monetize, quantify, and delineate desired outcomes to achieve a stated goal or goals.
Its important to remember that an e-Learning solution / Learning Management System is a tool used to achieve and / or promote a various set tactics as part of an entire training strategy which ideally, should be in line with company or department goals. Since it is a tool that is executed and used as part of a tactic, be sure to provide enough detailed information that is specific to your desired uses of an e-Learning solution along with your department’s goals and objectives.
5. Develop a set of user personas so potential vendor companies will be given framework as to how their system will be used by every person that will touch it at your organization. Provide a breakdown of technical skill required for each user persona, including the technical requirements of any other IT systems they would use and need to be integrated into the e-Learning Solution / Learning Management System technology.
For example, a Human Resources Manager may work with an HRIS (Human Resources Information System) that would need to integrated with the Learning Management System. Be sure to provide the platform type, version, underlying database technology, the file structure, and any other information that is useful to the potential vendor company.
6. Prioritize features and functionality into a hierarchy based on the concepts of absolutely must have (priority 1), would like to have (priority 2), nice to have but not necessary (priority 3), or something along these lines to demonstrate level of importance to the vendor companies that will submit proposals for your RFP / RFQ.
Be sure to explain the features and functionality you require in concise and complete sentences. Features and functionality displayed in lists of three or four word bullet points often falls short of really explaining what your requirements are and can cost you more time further down the road.
7. Ask for and include sections for ‘RFP / RFQ boilerplate’ type of information. Some are listed below:
Vendor Information-Your RFP / RFQ should contain a vendor information section that details all contact information, company size, public or private, the number of years in business, etc. You may also want to ask for financial information. *
*It’s important to remember that company financials can be relevant information for your firm to have when evaluating a vendor; but they are not a consistent indicator of a company or product’s longevity or market staying power, especially in technology industries. Venture funded or publicly traded firms are often bought and sold to pay off investors, eliminate competing technology platforms, and for other reasons.
The e-Learning / Learning Management Systems industry continues to experience lots of consolidation and many industry analysts predict this trend will continue. For example in the last twelve months, Saba bought Centra Software and Blackboard acquired Web CT.
General Product/Service Information-This section should include general information on the proposed system such as the release date, version, total number of users, the number of years in service, server platform, database technology, java clients, browser compatibility, any licensing, support, and maintenance agreements, and more. It’s also good to ask how the potential vendor company differentiates itself from its competitors and to include a list of any URLs, user names, and passwords to the demonstration version of their product.
Reference Information-This section is an area for the potential vendor company to list three or more reference customers and a partial list of clients.
8. Provide a place for the prospective vendor company to detail their proposed solution. It should cover in detail the product; pricing; its implementation; IT platform requirements; licensing or hosting requirements; system configuration; testing; user loading; HRIS data loading; interfaces between software applications that need to be developed; acceptance testing; general functionality; priority 1, 2, and 3 features and functionality (as discussed in #6); user hierarchies; localization; course and curriculum administration; system administration; authoring tools; system and authoring tool training; project plan and timelines; maintenance; support; and more.
9. Create a question and answer section for the prospective vendor company. The question and answer section contain questions about the technology; system requirements; project implementation; time needed for implementation; testing acceptance period; or another types of questions that are specific and germane to e-Learning solutions / Learning Management Systems implementation initiative.
10. Clearly identify the number of copies, formats, submission dates, locations where the proposal should be sent, and next steps. Be sure to include a date as to when you will be choosing your shortlist for the next round of evaluation.
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