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Recommitting to Business Integrity

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The March 16 issue of Storefront Backtalk featured an interesting article. “Want Truthful RFPs? Try Having Vendors Fact-Check Competing Bids” suggested that vendors do not always provide accurate responses to RFPs. I read this article with great interest as the ARTS RFP program was referenced and longtime ARTS member Gene Cornell, president of Cornell-Mayo Associates, was quoted.

The article offered several suggestions to retailers on how to improve their RFP process to ensure that responses are accurate -- and, therefore, that the product or solution they select is truly matched to their needs. The ARTS RFP program was launched in 2003 for this exact purpose: Our library contains RFPs for those applications most often purchased (POS, workforce management, business intelligence, warehouse management and, the latest, cloud computing). Every RFP has two parts:
1. The “Request for Proposal Master Agreement and Proposal Instructions” is a Word document providing guidance for scheduling and managing the RFP process, suggestions on which retailer organizational units need to be involved, formatting vendor response documents and negotiating contract terms and conditions.

2. The “Request for Proposal Response Document” presents a comprehensive list of the business processes that can be automated by the subject application (including features and functions) within each business process that the retailer should consider when implementing the application.

The article prompted me to go back and re-read the Master Agreement to re-familiarize myself with the specific advice it provides on validating responses -- or recourse, should those responses prove to be incorrect after selection. I found nothing on this issue, as the ARTS committees of retailers, vendors and consultants who developed the RFPs presumed vendors would provide “Honest Abe” responses.

As a close-knit industry, retail has in the past “weeded out” those who have misrepresented their capabilities or failed to perform as advertised. Regretfully, however, ARTS is reconsidering this assumption and updating the Master Agreement accordingly. Now emphasized within it is our position that retailers should carefully review the RFPs’ business process and feature and function lists and modify them to their specific business model before submitting it to vendors.

The article also suggests having a few vendors review the RFP responses for accuracy. ARTS can attest to the fact that vendors know their competitors’ products. I am often asked, “How does ARTS ensure a neutral position in standards?” My answer continues to be, “Get a few competitive vendors around the table with retailers to referee and you will get unbiased standards.” I wonder, however, if this would work as well in a competitive bid situation.

Another suggestion is to select several key responses from the top candidates and verify them via reference calls to customers or competitors. I would recommend doing this before settling on a group of finalists, just to be sure you have made the “right” first cut. This will take some extra time, but living with or paying to correct inaccurate responses will be worse. A possible shortcut would be to verify vendor responses by referencing the Technology Evaluation Center (TEC), a RFP service provider that has published consultant-verified vendor responses to their available RFPs.

Do you have a tried-and-true method for verifying the accuracy of RFP responses or suggestions to improve other topics in the ARTS RFP Master Agreement? We ask you to share them by using the comments function below and ARTS will factor them into our update of the Master Agreement.