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Click here to read RFPs Part I: Why this vendor selection approach is damaging business

Request For Partnership

The previous article described how RFPs are used as a selection process by companies wanting to purchase products or services. It also explained how the RFP process is a flawed approach for vendor selection and how it restricts the development of change in technology, integration, and purchasing firms.

The most obvious option to bring about change in the selection process is to improve RFP questions and refine investment success measurements. There is, however, a better way: collaborate with vendors instead. RFPs are gauntlets that purchasing companies throw down to have competing vendors bid against each other. A more effective approach is to engage with vendors and develop a dialog directly with the technology or service providers.  

Here are six considerations that you can follow to enable a real transformation in your company’s technology selection, implementation, and usage:

1. Vision

Be clear about what you want in a new solution. But also prepare to learn that what you want may not be what you need.  Purchasers can achieve this by partnering with vendors and alliance partners to obtain clarity and explore potential options. You can also attend vendors’ workshops and conferences, take part in webinars and engage with business communities (such as aim10x) both locally and globally, and attend events (matched to your purchasing needs) outside of your industry to learn different perspectives. At this point in the evaluation process, it’s more advantageous to remain open to all vendor options.

2. Value

Create clear definitions and measurements, especially when you are not yet aware of what is possible in terms of value creation and the implications of the change required. Focus on value delivery to all internal and external customers. Use margin growth as your key measure instead of cost reduction and consider the impact of change on your resources—not just system and process training but full HR implications.  At this point, you should be able to evaluate the vendors that most closely align with your vision and values. 

3. Test drive

With a shortlist of vendors, you can now compare and contrast the technology and partner solutions with real data in realistic situations. Eschew the traditional ‘Proof of Concepts’ and their presentation-heavy slide-ware and the forecast bake-offs with their small, manipulated datasets. Instead, run realistic test drives. Take essential use-cases (such as New Product Introduction, Demand Review, or Volume-to-Value conversion) and have them configured in your preferred platforms. Then allow users to try them out in real-time, under real planning conditions on the system. A test drive like this should only take two to four weeks. Use this process to select a winning platform for a pilot.

4. Building blocks

After the test drive, run a pilot in a business segment such as foundational end-to-end planning in one market. The pilot should aim to solve a real problem and it should deliver improvement to the business in a relatively short time frame. The focus of the pilot must be on the value to be gained and not technological capabilities since trying to create a perfect solution will extend timelines. Take the learnings from the pilot and implement them in the remaining markets, while continuing in the beachhead market with more sophisticated planning workflows. This prescriptive, building-block approach to implementation is the optimal way to develop platform capabilities and increase resource maturity.

5. Partnership

Implementations can fail to deliver their expected aims and leave users reverting to planning in spreadsheets. This can occur because the UI is not user-friendly or because the platform is not scalable enough, performs poorly, or isn’t extensible. RFPs are just words on a page. They cannot guarantee that new solutions will avoid these platform limitations. The answer is to develop solutions in strategic alliances with technology companies and implement the solutions with dedicated integration partners. Focus on flexibility from vanilla or standard configurations so that future growth is easily achievable.

6. Roadmaps

Review the roadmaps of vendors and their key customers and align closely with them so that you can influence the future. Maintain a dialog with product management teams, join user communities for technology and process, and continue to assess the pathway for innovation. Partnerships like this encourage the continued delivery of value and will increase the likelihood that your business growth requirements will be matched by a platform’s capabilities.

Summary: Innovation breeds innovation.

By following these steps, solution implementation outcomes could more consistently deliver lasting business value. Instead of a tired list of biased questions that cannot be effectively answered, create deep and lasting relationships with technology vendors and integrators whose vested interest can become the same as yours. As more and more companies transition to this more practical and effective vendor selection process, RFP could very well end up standing for ‘Request for Partnership.’

Interested in moving beyond RFPs?

o9 provides next-generation solutions developed for a world that is changing faster than ever. Using test drives, targeted and value-led pilots, and a building-block approach to implementation, companies can reduce risk, shorten time-to-value, and obtain a solution that their users will actually love and use. If you’re looking for a supply chain or planning solution, take the first step in changing your RFP process by contacting us for a preview of what’s possible.

Simon Joiner

Simon Joiner is a Product Manager of Demand Planning at o9 Solutions. He has over 20 years of experience in transforming Demand Planning Systems, Resources and Processes in such diverse sectors such as Pharmaceutical, Building Supplies, Agriculture, Chemical, Medical, Food & Drink, Electronics, Clothing and Telecoms. Simon lives in Hemel Hempstead in the UK with his wife and two (grown up) children and in his spare time likes to play guitar, research family history, walk the dogs and keep fit with running.