How Governments Can Rethink Their RFP Process

Public sector organisations require a more nimble and holistic request for proposals (RFP) process that empowers them to find the best technology vendor for their needs. Workday’s Will Greer, vice president, government, explains how this will provide long-term benefits for governmental organizations.

The technology landscape has matured dramatically over the last decade, and most technology vendors today can check the box on many of the basic features and functions a governmental organization might need for traditional requests for proposals (RFPs). What once may have been a technology differentiator is now table-stakes functionality (e.g., core financial management and human capital management capabilities). 

Complex IT projects that span human resources (HR) and finance can take up to 24 months to complete. It’s imperative for public sector leaders to find a technology solution that not only meets their specific needs today but also will easily adapt as they grow and change. That means going beyond a standard one-size-fits-all RFP to a more tailored and hands-on approach that encompasses pre-RFP demos, customer references, and test drives by the people in the organization who will actually use the software.

Public sector organizations have an opportunity to develop an RFP solicitation document and process that reduces the overall procurement cycle, focuses the evaluation on key differentiators, and encourages fair and robust competition throughout the process.

Why Traditional RFPs Fall Short

Standard out-of-the-box questions: Public sector organizations commonly use an RFP template from another local government or selection consultant. These templates, however, often include hundreds of individual functional requirements that are standard capabilities for the leading solutions likely to be considered by the organization. These out-of-the-box questions don’t allow for much differentiation between the various proposals.  

Just as you would test drive a car prior to purchase, public sector organizations have seen tremendous value in performing a hands-on test drive in which staff can experience how they would perform their roles within the solution.

If you are mostly asking feature and function questions in your RFP, and not hitting on the areas that most impact project success, all vendors will appear the same, which increases the risk of a misinformed decision. 

Recommendation: Focus functional requirement questions on the most complex and/or unique requirements facing your organization (e.g., public safety payroll calculations).  

Questions not aligned to outcomes: While most public sector finance and HR organizations struggle with the same core challenges, each has its own particular set of pain points and business objectives. 

The RFP should assess the vendor’s ability to enable critical business outcomes. For example, if the organization seeks to reduce the amount of time for filling vacant positions, wants to simplify its chart of accounts, or needs to streamline the procure-to-pay cycle, then potential solution partners should provide information about how and where the proposed solution has been able to achieve those outcomes. 

Recommendation: Use the RFP to outline your overarching business and technology goals for the project. Ask vendors how their solution will enable you to meet those goals, and require proposals to provide proof points of how other customers have achieved similar outcomes.

Constriction of creativity: Sometimes organizations will inadvertently draft RFPs that outline how a solution should solve their pain points rather than just specifying the pain points themselves. They might think their processes or functions are running smoothly, but they “don’t know what they don’t know.” This can limit the vendor’s ability to partner with them to identify creative solutions or applications of new technology. 

Organizations might think their processes or functions are running smoothly, but they “don’t know what they don’t know.”

For example, public sector financial analysts might be used to having to extract large amounts of data from the financial system, export it to Excel, then spend hours manipulating the data to provide a static report. If they’re unaware of best-practice processes and other ways to achieve their objective, they could spend time evaluating the extraction functions of potential financial systems rather than exploring the advances in reporting that now allow for real-time analysis within a secured environment.

Recommendation: Ask vendors how their solution will enable specific best practices aligned with the organization’s overall goals, rather than telling them how their solution needs to accomplish your goals.

5 Actions to Take Now With Your RFP Process

Compared to the private sector, public sector organizations face some unique and unavoidable challenges (e.g., public procurement code, solicitation requirements, public transparency). But these challenges can be managed in ways that maintain a competitive process while not unduly slowing down procurement—providing for a more meaningful and value-added process. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all RFP and evaluation approach, below are five specific actions that high-performing organizations leverage to efficiently evaluate and select the best-fit, long-term technology partners. 

1. Conduct Pre-RFP Demos

Many public sector employees are only experienced with the legacy systems that have been in place throughout their tenure. Evaluation team members and executive decision-makers need a perspective on what’s available in the marketplace for modern cloud solutions. 

Organizations can benefit by inviting the top two or three vendors to provide a brief overview demonstration prior to issuing an RFP. Rather than getting into detailed financials or HR functionality, an overview demonstration will allow participants to see the art of the possible and understand the overall technology foundations (e.g., security, business process management, user experience, integrations, reporting and analytics, mobile, and self-service) that should be consistent across the platform. Pre-RFP demonstrations build knowledge within the evaluation team but can also help develop momentum and excitement for an upcoming change. 

2. Keep Software Demos Focused on Business Processes and User Experience

Software demonstrations often rely on a long list of scripted items that are more focused on checking the box for specific features and functions, rather than understanding how the proposed solution will enable strategic objectives. 

To enable an apples-to-apples comparison, it is important to require each vendor to provide references of other public sector customers who are using the same version of the software being proposed for the organization.

Evaluation team members and rank-and-file staff will get more out of a demonstration if they are able to leave with a better understanding of how the proposed solutions will address their major pain points and challenges, including providing a “day-in-the-life” perspective for key stakeholders. For example, they can see how the solution will enhance the employee hiring and onboarding experience, provide more integrated and streamlined processes across finance and HR functions, and empower managers to make better, faster decisions about their finances and workforce.

3. Run Deep Dives on Key Differentiators

Even though many organizations have a good sense of what each vendor’s technology looks and feels like, there are other critical components to consider. The ownership experience and post go-live support vary from vendor to vendor. As part of the evaluation, it is important to allocate enough time during the process for conversations around issues such as:

  • Technology architecture.
  • Security and data privacy.
  • Service-level agreements (SLAs).
  • Customer enablement (to ensure proper training of your team).
  • Your “community” and the level of participation among customers (i.e., where customers connect to share best practices/questions).
  • How innovations and updates get rolled out.
  • Perspective on customer support/customer success managers (e.g., who do you go to if you have questions after go live?). 
  • Deployment considerations beyond pricing and timeline (e.g., percentage on time/on budget, inclusion of delivery assurance services, or certification/recertification process for deployment partners).

4. Emphasize Customer References

Software vendors can provide a lot of useful information to support the evaluation process, but when it comes to conducting reference checks, this is an opportunity for a governmental body to talk to similar organizations and get honest feedback about:

  • Why they chose the software. 
  • Their implementation experience. 
  • How life has changed since they went live. 
  • The customer’s overall level of satisfaction.
  • Whether they would make the same decision again. 

To enable an apples-to-apples comparison, it is important to require each vendor to provide references of other public sector customers who are using the same version of the software being proposed for the organization.  

5. Require a Hands-On Test Drive

Vendor-led demonstrations will help provide government leaders and staff with an overview of the solution. However, just as you would test drive a car prior to purchase, public sector organizations have seen tremendous value in performing a hands-on test drive in which staff can experience how they would perform their roles within the solution. This important evaluation activity could be reserved for the final vendors prior to selection.

The Benefits of Rethinking the RFP Process

While the technology market has shifted dramatically in the last decade, the RFP process has not. Instead of checking every box imaginable, technology evaluations should check the boxes that matter most to your organization. This will allow it to accelerate time to decision, deployment, and value realization. By using this approach, public sector organizations can produce a higher quality evaluation that moves past pure feature and function discussions and focuses more on the differentiators that will unlock strategic and economic value. 

To learn more about how Workday helps governments drive digital transformation, visit our website.

Special thanks to Sam Ashbaugh, senior value manager for education and government at Workday, who contributed significantly to this article. 

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