Some information on RFIs
A Request for Information (RFI) is a specialized tool that is valuable to buyers. When used properly, it can be of immense value to the solicitation process. First, it is not solely a solicitation document but is used in conjunction with other solicitation methods. It is designed to give you a snapshot view of a marketplace upon which to base purchasing decisions such as establishing a pre-qualified bidder’s list or determining prerequisites for a solicitation.
The most important part of an RFI is the questionnaire, which determines what you want to accomplish and how you want to use the information. If it is used to establish prerequisites, then you need to ask questions about prospective bidders’ length of time in business, their financial health, sales volume, qualifications of their senior staff and résumés of their officers. From there you can take a “medium,” realistic approach to your prerequisites.
Prerequisites are established to become a low hurdle for entry into the solicitation. Typically they are X years in business, X dollars of sales per year, X number of contracts of the same size and scope, and similar factors. Years in business and sales volume should reflect the industry in which you will be dealing. If related to new technology that is just evolving, don’t look for a lot of years in business but concentrate on other information. Established technology is different; the experience curves are already there. I wouldn’t use anything past five years, as that would show me a solid record of performance and growth.
I have even opened up the requirement for years in business: If the company hasn’t been in business for a particular period, I will consider if the persons running the company have experience in the marketplace. I have always regarded prerequisites as an entry-level type of requirement.
With pre-qualifications, include all of the above, but also include a question about the plant and equipment a bidder will need. Be both specific and generic. Do not ask for a brand name of equipment, such as a Binford 3000, but rather a generic description, such as a Left-Handed Street Sweeper capable of sweeping the left-handed streets after dark.
Each type has its advantages, but remember, you are basing your decisions on what the marketplace is telling you, and it can be fickle. Send out the expressions of interest to as many as you can; advertise the RFI as you would a formal bid. Look to technical publications for advertising possibilities. See if there is a trade association publication that will take your advertisement. Your goal is to blanket the marketplace and get as many responses as possible.
Check your information, find a way to verify it and make solid decisions on your next steps. Measure your information against what you are trying to accomplish. Remember, these decisions will exclude some potential bidders, and you have to be prepared to defend your decisions and avoid protests. Good luck with your efforts.
About the author
Frederick Marks, CPPO, VCO, is a retired purchasing officer who has held positions as a supervising buyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as director of material management for Northern Virginia Community College. Contact Marks at [email protected].