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How to Write a Request for Proposal

If your RFP contains the right information, it can help you identify the best systems integrator for your RFID deployment.
By Jill Gambon
Jul 20, 2009—The process of hiring a systems integrator for a radio frequency identification project can be lengthy and intensive, but when done smartly, it can improve the chances of a successful deployment. A critical part of the process is the request for proposal (RFP), used to identify the company that can assist with system design and technology selections, as well as implementation and support.

The hallmark of an effective RFP is that it is information-packed, completely describing the project's goals and how it will fit into the company's overarching business strategy. In addition, business operations must be clearly documented and future plans for the RFID system identified. "Most RFPs are vastly incomplete in the information a systems integrator needs to know," says Patrick Sweeney, CEO of ODIN Technologies. "The No. 1 rule is: Put in more information than you think you need."

In general, it takes up to six months for the entire process of hiring a systems integrator—including conducting researching, gathering information, writing the RFP, evaluating responses and vetting the responding vendors. For especially complex projects, or for organizations beginning their first foray into RFID, a preliminary step can be to issue a request for "sources sought," or a request for information (RFI) to learn more about the vendors and the services and solutions they offer.

Several RFID systems integration experts agree that if companies take the following three steps, they can strengthen the quality of their RFP. Also featured is a sample RFP template, developed by ODIN Technologies, for a full end-to-end solution response. According to ODIN, a software-only selection typically requires all of this content as well, but a hardware-only RFP may be streamlined to the specific hardware performance requirements.

1. Identify the Problem
The first step in putting together a request for proposal is to identify the underlying business issues that need to be addressed, such as improving visibility into the supply chain, reducing equipment losses or streamlining customer service. "The first thing for companies to do is to think through the problems they are trying to solve," says Paul Faber, a principal with Tompkins Associates, a global supply chain consulting firm. "You must have a complete description of the business scenario and challenges."

If, for instance, a business is seeking to launch an asset-tracking application, it should include information such as the number of items to be tagged, what the items are made of, the number of locations where tags will be read, what the environment is like and which personnel within the organization will be involved. In addition, information regarding the existing IT infrastructure should be included, as well as which business applications will need to be integrated with the RFID data. The vendors will use that information for system design, as well as for devising a pricing plan.

"You have to articulate the scope of the project," says Duncan McCollum, a principal with CSC. "It must be clear to everyone what you want to accomplish, and what success will look like." Input from a cross-functional team with representatives from the various departments across an organization can help ensure that full consideration is given to all aspects of a project, McCollum says, whether it's the physical layout of a data center, the complexities of supply chain management or budget constraints. "That makes for a better RFP," he states, "and a better RFID project."
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