Extensive RFPs don’t do anyone any favors. Looking for a new ERP software system for your equipment rental company doesn’t have to be as complicated or as drawn out as some might make it. The traditional model when searching for a reliable financial, rental, and service software system has been to put together a Request for Proposal (RFP), submit it to as many vendors as possible, and wait for the responses to pour in.
The reality is relying on a process based on a detailed RFP often doesn’t do anyone any favors, especially for the company evaluating the systems. On the surface it may seem like an RFP will reduce risk, but in some ways the risk is actually increased as an overabundance of detail leads to confusion and slants the process towards the best sales presentation, not the most suitable product.
The Agony of Creating RFPs
Creating a RFP is an intensive process, which involves conducting extensive and time consuming interviews before compiling all the data.
I used to be part of the requirements gathering process many years ago when I was working as a professional accountant in the information systems group of a large accounting firm. We would help our clients select new software systems after we had interviewed each staff member to record their wants and needs in a spreadsheet. We would then compare all the answers to a wide variety of available systems and the spreadsheet would calculate how closely the systems matched the requirements. Realistically however, the sheet contained hundreds of answers many of which were ‘wants’ and not ‘needs’ so the important items were often buried among hundreds if not thousands of questions. It was extremely difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
RFPs Can Attract the Wrong Vendors
Sending out a complex RFP can backfire if vendors are either too busy to complete them, or are misleading in their responses. I knew one supplier’s salesperson whose stated policy was to answer ‘yes’ to every question to ensure a spot on the shortlist. On the other hand, a vendor that is good at what they do and have an excellent product may not have time to answer hundreds of detailed questions and may refuse to participate. The vendors with more time on their hands, perhaps for good reason, or those willing to do whatever it takes in order to get the deal will respond.
Staff Will Be Buried in the Details
Even beyond the issues of possible dishonesty or misleading answers, the sheer number of answers from ten or more respondents will inhibit your staff from efficiently processing the answers. I’ve seen situations where staff become overwhelmed with detail and begin to combine various vendor responses in their mind. For example, they may remember one system as having two key requirements but in reality it was two different vendors that each only had one of the key requirements.
Keep the RFP Process Focused on Key Areas
The first thing to do in simplifying the process of finding a new rental management and financial system is to poll your key stakeholders who know your business inside and out. These stakeholders may have had past experience with other software systems and may know exactly what they don’t want or what are must-haves in a new system. You could even ask around, talk to people in the same or similar industries to see what types of processes they recommend, or what their wish list is, for a software system.
Simplify the process of looking for a new rental management system by focusing on key differentiating questions. Don’t spend a lot of time asking base functionality questions such as financial reporting or accounts payable, because every system now has a solid financial base.
Three major areas for rental organizations to focus on are:
- Integrated System – Are all aspects of your organization including rental management, financials, and service in a single database? Having a disconnected system means delays in reporting and increased errors due to data entry among other concerns.
- Technology Base – What technology is driving the system you are considering? Will you have to worry about future compatibility? Choosing a system built by the industry leader Microsoft for example means that you would always have the most current technology and you can expand to use additional products such as Office 365 and Skype for Business for an even greater competitive advantage. It also bears saying that Microsoft spends more annually in Research and Development than many other systems will earn over the course of a decade.
- Mobility Options – There’s no question that the workplace is getting more mobile and new staff coming into your industry will expect to be able to accomplish their work on a variety of devices. The freedom of mobile workers will also make your operations run smoother and more efficiently.
Choosing a Vendor
You don’t need to go away from the RFP process entirely, but a shortened and targeted RFP will allow more and better quality vendors to quickly respond, while giving your staff time to effectively process the responses. If you hire a consultant to help you find a system, ensure they have the same philosophy of keeping the requirements gathering process simple. As a word of warning based on my experience, be very careful about hiring outside consultants to help you with this process if they sell computer software. You would be better to insist that they are not eligible to participate in answering your new RFP as there can easily be a conflict of interest.
Once you have your more concise RFP and key requirements identified you can begin searching for vendors that fit those requirements and have a great deal of industry knowledge and expertise. Once you have a list of vendors to consider, do your due diligence to determine if their products and industry knowledge are a fit for you. Remember you are looking for more than software, you are looking for a dynamic company that will partner with you to enhance your operations.