How running an RFP process with integrity helps everyone involved

This is a guest post by James M. Spitze, Executive Director (emeritus) of the Fisher Center for CIO Leadership at the Haas School of Business, UC-Berkeley.

Some years ago, my IT management consulting firm was one of a dozen or so firms invited to a Bidders Conference for an RFP issued by a large community college district.  The conference started smoothly enough, and I enjoyed meeting the other participants. But by the middle of the first day, it became clear that the district’s procurement department strongly favored one bidder. The rest of us were pretty obviously wasting our time.  

During the lunch break, I spoke to the regional head of one of the other bidders, an individual I had long known and respected.  His firm was the largest attending the conference so when he announced after the break that he and several others would not be submitting bids because the process was “rigged” (the exact word he used) the district halted the meeting.  Soon after, the district’s Head of Procurement made an appearance, and my friend vented with some vigor while many of us added our general annoyance to the conversation.

In the end, the Head of Procurement proved to be unconvincing in his promises of a level playing field. Several of us left the meeting early and flew back to our homes – much disgusted.

Two or three of the firms that walked out were, in my opinion, especially well equipped to perform the work the district outlined in the RFP— better in my mind than my firm and much better than the firm we all felt was rigged to get the work, as it eventually did.

Nonetheless, we remained on the list of firms routinely invited to submit responses to the district’s RFPs.  My firm and the others that had walked out that day put the district on a de facto “to be ignored” list. For five or six years we declined the district’s RFP invitations until there was some kind of upheaval in their management.

If anything is to be learned from this, it is the central importance of the integrity of the RFP process. If even a small suspicion exists that things are rigged, the issuer will be hurt by the loss of sometimes the best qualified recipients. And the hit to the issuing organization’s reputation will make it more challenging to invite respondents to participate in future procurements.

Most procurement officials act with integrity and professionalism so this anecdote could be dismissed as a one-off occurrence. However, it points to the need to ensure that *every* RFP process is run fairly and transparently, according to objective rules and guidelines that are understood in advance by all parties. The right software is essential. It ensures the rules are followed because they are hardcoded straight into the procurement project. Popcorn RFP’s “kernels” combine process rigidity with the flexibility needed to customize business logic and RFP content. Plus, Popcorn RFP ensures that everything is documented and auditable in case questions arise.

An RFP process run with integrity helps everyone involved. Having the right software ensures the right transparency and visibility, both heading off questions about the integrity of the process and providing immediate, verifiable answers to any questions that do come up. If a vendor participates in a fair process but is ultimately not selected, they are far more likely to respond to future proposal requests. Popcorn RFP helps prevent the kind of “rigged” situation I encountered previously by ensuring the process is run with integrity, transparency, and accountability.

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