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Down the RFP rabbit hole

InterWorks recently invested a large amount of time into responding to the Oklahoma Department of Central Purchasing's (DCS) RFP for technology services. There were nine categories you could respond to and if you are one of the big winners (4 per category) you get to peddle your wares to state agencies without being required to go through the RFP process to do the work.

Going through the process re-kindled my dislike for the process. We've won very few private-sector RFP's historically. When we do win an RFP it's because of a pre-existing relationship and in many cases we helped write the RFP. If you have not had personal contact with the person putting out the RFP, I think your chances are significantly less.

Government RFP's are a bit different. Because it's the government (or is it duh-verment?) the scoring process is much more systemic and objective, although I'm not fooling myself because I'm sure that any scorers prejudices will come into play while reviewing the proposals. I understand the nature of the objective scoring system, but it tends turn the RFP process into a glorified term-paper writing contest. The merits of the company and their success are taken into account, but only after you carefully navigate all of the tiny little traps laced through the RFP and amendments (wrong font? oops -5, only 9 whizbangs listed instead of the requested 10? -10, and so on).

I also take issue with the minimum qualifications listed for team members included in the response. For example, programmers were expected to have 4+ years of experience if you were going to supply their resume as part of your team. Four years!? really? I know after 2-3 years of programming I thought I was hot sh-- and I met quite a few programmers with 10+ years under their belt who were plodding through their careers with no real passion for software development. Needless to say, someone who is passionate and loves what they do tends to learn faster and also produce higher quality work than the person who is just paying the bill with the good ol' J-O-B. I think 2+ years is more than adequate training for the programmers on the team, I can understand wanting more for an architect as learning how to be a systems analyst and architect take more time.

We put a ton of time into this, especially our COO, Dan Murray, and I really hope we win one of the categories (we bid on 4). Our proposal was not as AWESOME as it should have been, but it was respectable. Overall it was a positive experience and we definitely learned how the process of writing the response should be handled in the future, which could potentially be valuable if the right opportunity presents itself.

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