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Word of Warning to Customers: RFP Evaluation May Be Harder than You Think

I am in the process of reviewing and analyzing system supplier responses to my IP telephony system RFP in preparation for the annual VoiceCon Orlando Monday tutorial session held on March 30, 2009 at 9:00 AM. What continues to surprise me, though it shouldn't after several decades of RFP work, is how the system design proposals and the pricing proposals do not match up, i.e. proposed hardware and/or software elements required by the RFP are not included in the price schedule. In a few rare instances there may also be an excess of hardware/software elements in the price schedule, usually too many software licenses or hardware capabilities far beyond the requirements of the RFP, resulting in a too-high cost to the customer.For the past two years the most common hardware element missing from the price proposal has been an adapter (proprietary add-on or third party solution) for Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth Adapter Syndrome must be going around, so be careful out there if you have it as part of your RFP requirements. A Gigabit Ethernet adapter is another similar RFP requirement that often results in an under-configured price quote. Another common RFP response design/price issue occurs when the system supplier cannot count, i.e. the proposed number of programmable line/feature keys on a particular IP telephone instrument model does not satisfy the explicit number requirement despite the vendor's ability to do so. Satisfying the requirement may require a more expensive model or an optionally priced add-on key module, something the system suppliers are loath to include in their system design proposal if the corresponding price proposal increases. If the requirement cannot be satisfied, so be it, but it is a different situation if the requirement can be satisfied and it is purposely not. Saving a few dollars representing a small percent of the system proposal price should not be a consideration of the responder.

Customers must very carefully read the system design and price proposals to ensure that the two are in synch with each other. Should one proposal be selected over another based on a lower price, be positive that the winning proposal includes everything you think are purchasing and installing based on satisfying your RFP requirements. Some price proposals I have recently reviewed were very simple and straightforward, but a few required the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone to understand what was being bid, because interpreting the shorthand descriptions of some price elements is often difficult and sometimes virtually impossible unless you are experienced and have learned from previous RFP projects. Many RFP projects. It is easy to miss a missing line item here or there. Take it from someone who knows.

Although I am biased I believe that the VoiceCon RFP tutorial is worth the price of admission to the entire conference. It is certainly unique, because no other conference provides the quantity and quality of information about current IP telephony system offerings coupled with the benefit of an experienced analyst and consultant as I to keep the vendors honest about their RFP responses. If you are in the market or plan to be in the market for a new IP telephony system the VoiceCon RFP tutorial can potentially save you time and money a hundredfold over the cost of attending the conference. See you in Orlando.