RFx Mistakes, and How Not to Make Them

Building a detailed requirements document and using a robust RFP process can significantly increase the chances of an effective tool or service deployment writes Victoria Barber.

People can be rather careless when they are spending other people’s money rather than their own – a fact that is one of the key justifications for Software Asset Management. (A quick online search for the term ‘shelfware’ indicates that the problem is endemic across all sectors and all types of software, and the concept of ‘shelfware as a service’ linked to SaaS has been around since at least 2009). When selecting a SAM tool, it is important to develop clear requirements to ensure the implementation of an effective SAM solution.

Effective business cases depend on carefully researchedrequirements

This carelessness with employer funds (“it’s in the budget, so I need to spend it, otherwise I won’t get as much next year”) is reflected in many of the business cases and requirements documents I have seen during my career. Much of what I’ve seen submitted was ‘creative’. The benefits were generally unsubstantiated, and often the same ones as those claimed by other people in other business cases – or ones that had been (repeatedly) claimed in previous years.

My role in the process was to work with end-users to understand the outcomes they were trying to achieve, understand the true business benefits, work out the best solution to the problem and help them to build a valid business case and deliver a successful project. While initially I may not have won any popularity contests, this approach certainly saved the business a lot of wasted effort, time and money – and ended up helping it deliver projects that had real value.

Many of these business cases were flawed from the outset – business requirements were poorly researched and articulated which resulted in solutions being poorly specified and inaccurately costed. And yet the people who submitted the funding requests were insistent that they ‘needed’ these solutions, and that ‘management’ (and accountants) didn’t understand their business.

Management’s view was that the business wants a Rolls-Royce but actually just needs a new Chevy to get them from A to B but were unable to define those needs and were therefore describing what they thought the solution looked like. Time spent helping business users to articulate the required outcomes and making sure that they were clearly understood by the people tasked with coming up with solutions was well-spent in terms of ensuring expectations were aligned. And as people started to see not only success in getting business cases approved, but aslso success in the delivery of the projects, the benefits of taking this approach started to be appreciated.

Somewhat ironically, given that ITAM is concerned with the elimination of waste and driving value from organizational technology investments, many of the RFIs and RFPs I have reviewed as an IT asset manager and then as an analyst suffer from the same problem. This seems to be because people are unclear as to what these documents are supposed to achieve. Poor RFx documents aren’t good for either customers or vendors – customers rarely get what they need when vendors are trying to second-guess what they really want. It also makes the selection process difficult when customers cannot clearly articulate their own needs and hence are unable to compare like with like due to their unstructured approach and over-reliance on vendor sales and marketing information.

Vendors have a responsibility here as well. They need to push back when customers provide them with poor requirements and badly structured response forms and ask for clarification and additional information to allow them to provide a comprehensive response. Responding to, and winning business based on poor quality RFPs can result in poor customer relationships and brand damage when the solution doesn’t live up to customer expectations.

common mistakes

These include:


So how do you avoid getting it wrong?

My top tips for an effective SAM solution or service RFP include:


Investing time in building detailed requirements, a well-structured RFP document and an effective scoring mechanism will increase the chances of procuring the right SAM solution for your organization’s needs.