RFP: does that mean request for proposal or request for problems? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Have you ever spent countless hours exchanging documents and providing clarifications via email for your RFP? Or maybe you’ve spent your days responding to and sorting through follow-ups in your inbox for several bids you sent out, each with a different format, unclear submission requirements, and irrelevant or excessive questions? Although RFPs are invaluable for data center projects, they’ve earned a bad rap over the years owing to inefficient, frustrating and time-consuming processes.
It’s no surprise that many professionals go running in the opposite direction. But not so fast! RFPs facilitate vendor relationships and encourage healthy competition that reduces costs, not to mention that the process can boost your team’s knowledge and help you realistically plan for a project.
And for the data center industry, it’s high time for a more efficient, streamlined method. The market is bursting at the seams, with the number of data center projects on a sharp incline. Trending technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, edge data centers and more are driving data center growth. Experts expect the data center construction market to grow at a 6.35% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2021. In the first half of 2017, data center investment in the U.S. surpassed the $18 billion mark—more than double the amount spent during all of 2016, according to CBRE.
Increased emphasis on highly technical and nuanced data center projects, such as DCIM (data center infrastructure management) and colocation-facility upgrades, is creating more opportunity—and more challenges—for the bidding process. DCIM assists in colocation, allowing managers to optimize the use of energy, provide data monitoring for tenants and support virtualization efforts. But not all DCIM systems are created equal. An effective bidding process can help create a level playing field, allowing companies to compare products and solutions that aren’t created equal to identify the best DCIM solution.
Data center professionals could truly reel in benefits from a well-managed RFP process, especially during this time of unprecedented growth. But to build a house, you must have a solid foundation. The first phases of data center construction are crucial to its success. Whether you’re writing or responding to an RFP, let’s look at how you can best set yourself up for success.
Tips for Writing an RFP That Gets Results
1. Select the best proposal format and tool. Possibly the most fundamental first step in the RFP process is the format of the bid document and the tools you employ to manage the project. If the template isn’t customizable, the proposal can get muddied with complicated, irrelevant or nonspecific questions and, in return, not-quite-right answers. Regardless of which tool you select, it should provide various templates that ideally cater to the data center industry. And hopefully you have a tool in question—not just Excel documents sent back and forth via email. As we all know, the inbox can far too often become a black hole.
2. Take an unbiased and open-minded approach. Have you ever felt like one of your siblings was crowned the “favorite child?” Think of RFPs in the same way. No one wants to see the messaging in a data center RFP indicate that the competition has won the bid right out of the gate. Make sure you’re inviting solutions that your team might not have considered: be open to vendors of all sizes, even those you may be unfamiliar with. You want to ensure you’re not suppressing the creative process, as RFPs can deliver a huge value.
3. Set realistic goals. When crafting your RFP, make realistic goals. You can’t solve your company’s every challenge with one bidding process, and it would be overwhelming to try. Having overarching goals may seem like a good idea, but in the end, it could come back to bite you.
4. Leave ample time. Time is money. Nothing is more frustrating than not having enough time to complete a process. Leave room to develop your proposal in a manner that truly caters to the project’s needs—and then give respondents plenty of work days to respond thoughtfully. The RFP template should clearly outline when responses are due, with announcement dates included. In turn, this approach makes the vetting process much easier.
Tips for Winning Your Next Bid
1. Do your homework. Research early and often! An effective proposal requires proper planning and research on the issuing organization and on solutions that would deliver value and increase efficiencies. It also helps to provide a better view of the project’s scope.
2. Create valued relationships. It’s not always what you know, right? Work may go to any responding company owing to industry reputation and internal contacts, regardless of size, experience or even quoted price. So, build positive relationships with companies you may want to work with—it can pay off!
3. Tailor the responses. This point goes back to suggestion #1. Don’t waste your time creating a generic RFP response that doesn’t dig into the details or show off your tailored expertise.
4. Ask for feedback. You win some and you lose some. Request feedback to illuminate opportunities for improving your RFP responses. Doing so will set your team up for future success.
Choosing the Right RFP Platform
Let’s go back to the very first point. If you’re an RFP manager looking for bidding-management tools to help you streamline what has become a very inefficient process, ask these questions:
- Is the platform advanced enough to provide a streamlined process?
- Are the RFP templates unbiased and based on thorough research and analysis of multiple data center RFPs?
- Is the collaboration seamless?
- Can I manage and track all of my RFPs in one place?
- Can I manage all aspects of my RFPs?
- Does it allow for a deeper level of insight?
A tool such as Archer can provide an intuitive web-based RFI- and RFP-management platform along with customizable templates based on analysis of hundreds of data center RFPs. Using this kind of tool saves time for both data center RFP managers and responding vendors.
About the Author
Ajay Nagar, Founder and CEO of Arayna Technologies, has served the information technology and services industry for companies such as Schneider Electric and DCIMPro. Skilled in data center infrastructure, facilities management, software development, engineering and more, Ajay launched Arayna to develop software that simplifies processes across multiple industries.