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RFP process steps for selecting network carriers and equipment vendors

These RFP process steps detail everything organizations need to include in a request for proposal to new network carriers and equipment vendors.

When selecting a network service or equipment vendor, the RFP process used should coincide with all other projects....

For example, developing a wide area network (WAN) disaster recovery (DR) plan involves several important equipment- and service-related steps that should be part of your project plan.

While a typical WAN DR plan carries its own set of activities, those looking to select network equipment or carriers should follow these steps:

  1. Define the purpose, scope and performance objectives for the DR plan.
  2. Assess current network resources.
  3. Design a network topology and device configuration that provides the level of service and survivability (also known as resilience) identified in the objectives.
  4. Analyze available options from network carriers and equipment vendors currently in use.
  5. Research and analyze options available from other established carriers and equipment vendors.
  6. Discuss options with other network managers to obtain first-hand experience regarding network designs, carriers and vendors.
  7. Update the proposed network topologies and device configurations based on research findings.
  8. Prepare and distribute an RFP to selected carriers and equipment vendors.
  9. Evaluate carrier and vendor responses.
  10. Select the carrier/vendor(s), sign contracts and begin deploying the equipment and network services.

All work associated with both DR plan development and equipment/network services deployment should be closely coordinated and be part of the same overall project plan.

For the purposes of this article, we'll address Steps 8-10, which focus on the RFP process steps.

Let's assume you have completed the design phase of your WAN DR plan and now have a network configuration that satisfies your recovery and resilience metrics (i.e., bandwidth, latency, speed of transition from normal to emergency mode and back). Assuming you have identified qualified carriers and equipment suppliers, the next step is to launch the RFP process.

Preparing the RFP

A typical RFP outline for network services and equipment follows. Each section has specific goals and objectives that delineate what you seek as the enterprise customer and what the carrier/vendor must do to satisfy those requirements. A summary of critical dates should appear at the front of the RFP. Select the items that are most appropriate to your project.

The introduction section sets the stage for the RFP. Here is an example of what it includes:

Number Outlined RFP activity Description of activity
1. Introduction  
1.1 Purpose Describes the purpose of the RFP
1.2 Overview and Business Context Describes the relevance of the RFP from a business view
1.3 Technical Context of RFP Describes the technical nature of the RFP
1.4 Key Contacts List key contacts associated with the RFP

Since there are many legal issues to be addressed, this section summarizes some of the key issues for the RFP.

2. Confidentiality and Legal Statements  
2.1 General General overview of the section
2.2 Specific Legal Criteria Describes legal issues to be addressed
2.2.1 Confidentiality of Information Information provided must be kept confidential
2.2.2 RFP Response Contract Binding Material in the RFP response can be included in a legally binding contract
2.2.3 Limitation of Liabilities Describes liabilities and limitations for all parties
2.2.4 Warranties Discusses what should be addressed in warranties
2.2.5 Warranty/Maintenance Coverage Discusses maintenance issues covered by a warranty
2.2.6 Subcontractors Discusses the rules for using subcontractors
2.2.7 Technology Clause Discusses responsibility of the vendor to provide the most current and appropriate technology solution
2.2.8 Business Downturn Clause Discusses options parties may pursue if either/both experience a downturn in business/revenues
2.2.9 Most Equitable Treatment Clause States that the vendor will provide the fairest treatment to the customer
2.2.10 Early Termination/Renegotiation Discusses options for early termination of a contract and/or renegotiation of the contract terms
2.2.11 Quality Assurance Discusses the vendor's need to ensure quality assurance is practiced in all aspects of the project
2.2.12 Dispute Resolution Discusses the process through which disputes will be resolved
2.2.13 Prior Notification Discusses the need to provide advance notitication in writing of any changes in a contract
2.2.14 Term Extensions Discusses the process for changing key dates, specifically
2.2.15 Terminology Requests an extension of time for delivering a solution
2.2.16 Document Destruction Discusses the process for destroying documents, i.e., how long a document should be retained before it is destroyed

This section describes the process in which the vendor/carrier is to respond to the RFP.

3. Acknowledgment of Receipt  
3.1 Purpose Discusses the reasons to have an acknowledgement of receipt process
3.2 Date of Vendor/Carrier Response Lists the critical response dates for the RFP
3.3 Vendor/Carrier Response Form Provides a form that acknowledges the vendor will/will not respond to the RFP

This section describes your company and explains how the RFP relates to your WAN DR program.

4. Company Information  
4.1 Background Provides a background statement on the company issuing the RFP
4.2 Organization Structure and Business Functions Discusses the organization's structure and what it does
4.3 Business Context of Proposed Initiative Discusses the business reasons for issuing the RFP, e.g., to improve the firm's competitive position

This section summarizes the technical issues associated with the RFP and also gathers information about the technical capabilities of the vendor/carrier for subsequent evaluation.

5. Technical Requirements  
5.1 Overall Goals and Objectives Provides a chance for the vendor to acknowledge the goals and objectives of the RFP
5.2 Background Provides a summary of the vendor's background
5.3 Statement of Work Describes the work to be performed
5.4 Terms and Conditions Provides a high-level summary of the proposed terms and conditions for executing a contract
5.4.1 Pricing Provides pricing for the proposed solution(s)
5.4.2 Terms and conditions Provides detailed terms and conditions of solution(s) usage
5.5 Vendor/Carrier Capabilities Provides a discussion of the vendor's capabilities
5.5.1 Delivery of Products and Services as Contracted Vendor describes how it will fulfill the requirements as stated in the RFP
5.5.2 Adherence to Agreed Standards Vendor states that it will conform to applicable technical standards such as IEEE
5.5.3 Policy Regarding Use of Value Added Remarketers/Resellers (VARs) Vendor states its polices with respect to the use of third-party organizations
5.5.4 Industry Experience Vendor describes its experience with similar customer requirements and provides case studies if possible
5.5.5 Project Team Vendor provides names and biographies about the project team members
5.5.6 Management Personnel Vendor provides names and biographies about project leadership, as well as company leadership
5.5.7 Cultural Compatibility Vendor states how it will accommodate customer cultural issues, such as dress codes and working hours
5.5.8 Special Requirements Vendor provides any additional information regarding special situations, such as custom system/network designs

This section of the RFP describes the evaluation process, the key decision criteria and additional legal requirements. It also describes special activities, such as site visits and bidders' conferences, all of which gives additional useful information for the decision process.

6. Evaluation Process  
6.1 Time Frame and Critical Dates Provides a summary of critical dates for the RFP process
6.2 Questions on RFP Discusses how bidders can submit questions about the RFP
6.3 Bidders Conference Provides details on a bidders conference, if one is needed
6.4 Vendor/Carrier Site Visits Provides details on the process to schedule trips to visit vendor offices and enterprise customers
6.5 Presentations by Finalists Provides details on the process for scheduling vendor presentations, usually for RFP finalists
6.6 Instructions to Service Providers Provides general instructions to vendors on how to best submit their proposals
6.7 Proposal Content Discusses how proposal content is to be structured
6.8 Proposal Evaluation Process Discusses the process for evaluating proposals
6.8.1 General General overview of the evaluation process
6.8.2 Evaluation Criteria Summarizes the specific evaluation criteria
6.9 Due Diligence Discusses the need for due diligence
6.9.1 Selection and Notification Discusses how bidders will be selected and notified
6.9.2 Reservation of Rights Discusses reservation of rights by vendors
6.9.3 Confidentiality States that all information provided will be confidential
6.9.4 Vendor/Carrier’s Submission Discusses process for vendors/carriers to submit proposals
6.9.5 Non-Disclosure Agreement Discusses the need for winning bidders to execute non-disclosure agreements
6.9.6 Costs for Proposal Preparation States that all costs to prepare proposals will be borne by the vendors/carriers
6.9.7 Intellectual Property Provides a statement regarding the protection of intellectual property by bidders
6.9.8 Governing Law Discusses which state provides the governing law if there is any litigation
6.9.9 Limit of Liability Discusses limits of liability in any litigation
6.9.10 Entire RFP States that the RFP document represents the entire document, and there are no other documents in place
6.9.11 Final Due Diligence Discusses any additional due diligence to be provided

This section presents the format and structure in which RFP proposals must be submitted. It goes into lots of detail on the proposed soloution(s) and how your network service providers or equipment vendors will satisfy your requirements.

7. Appendix A - Proposal Format  
7.1 Agreement with Confidentiality and Legal Statements Bidders must acknowledge that they agree/disagree with confidentiality and legal statements
7.2 Executive Summary Bidders provide an executive summary for their proposals
7.3 Respond to All Items in RFP Bidders must respond to all items in the RFP, even if their response is, for example, "not applicable"
7.4 Your Organization Bidders provide a summary of their organizations
7.4.1 Business Description and Financial Profile Bidders summarize what they do and include a financial summary, i.e., Form 10K
7.4.2 Industry Experience Bidders summarize their industry experience that is relevant to the RFP requirements
7.4.3 Management Team Bidders provide details on their management team associated with the proposed project
7.4.4 Project Team Assigned to This Project Bidders provide details on the technical and support teams assigned to the proposed project
7.4.5 Governance, Risk and Compliance Bidders provide a statement on how they address governance, risk and compliance issues
7.5 Product and Service Descriptions Detailed descriptions of proposed product/service
7.5.1 Proposed Network Service Solution Bidders provide details of the network services being proposed
7.5.2 Proposed Equipment Solution Bidders provide details of the equipment and software being proposed
7.5.3 Proposed Value-Added Solution(s) Bidders provide details of any value-added services being proposed
7.6 Project Management and Coordination Bidders describe how they will project manage and address coordination issues for the project
7.7 Migration Strategy and Methodology Bidders describe how they will facilitate transition from the existing arrangement to the proposed solution(s)
7.8 Service and Support Bidders discuss how they will provide service and support
7.8.1 Service Delivery Bidders describe how they will deliver service and support
7.8.2 Conformance with Standards and Best Practices Bidders describe how their planning, design, installation, coordination and post-installation procedures conform with recognized industry standards and generally accepted best practices
7.9 Financial Proposal Bidders submit their financial proposal
7.9.1 Proposed Pricing Bidders submit their proposed pricing for all aspects of their proposed solution(s)
7.9.2 Contracts Bidders submit copies of their standard contracts, plus any other relevant legal docmentation
7.10 Technical Proposal Bidders provide the technical details and specifications of their proposed solution(s)

This section of the RFP provides details on your current network, existing disaster recovery capabilities and any other relevant information the vendor/carrier can use to produce a suitable proposal.

8. Appendix B - Current Network Technical Specifications Company submitting the RFP provides details of its current environment
8.1 Overall Network Infrastructure Details of the existing network/technology infrastructure
8.2 Additional Details Any additional technical details relevant to the RFP

Include a list of critical dates for all prospective bidders. This ensures that you have a means of keeping vendors (and your own efforts) on track. Examples of critical dates follow:

Proposal Release Date

Bid/No bid Declaration Date

Questions on RFP Deadline

Responses from Customer

Bidders Conference

Vendor Site Visit Dates

Proposal Submission Date

Finalists Selected

Finalist Presentation Date

Bid Award Date

Evaluating vendor/carrier responses

Using the RFP as a framework, prepare a spreadsheet that has the proposal criteria on the left-hand side and across the top list the vendors/carriers. For each RFP item, enter the vendor/carrier response in the appropriate cell. Include cells for entering a score (i.e., 0/1 for no/yes answers, and 1 <poor> to 5 <excellent> for assessing the quality of vendor responses). In some cases it may be useful to include an additional column for a weighting factor.

Add all the scores and use these results to select your top two or three finalists. Bidders conferences and client site visits are effective techniques to evaluate vendors and carriers. Schedule face-to-face meetings for finalists to deliver any additional remarks or relevant information. Be sure to call references and ask them if they know of any other organizations that used the vendor/carrier in question, and call those firms as well. From these inputs and internal meetings, select the winning vendor/carrier and execute the agreements following legal review.

Completing your RFP process

Once the above RFP process steps have been completed, your project plan should show that it is time to order equipment and network services, schedule deployment and test dates, conduct tests of the new network configuration to validate their performance in a disaster, update all network documentation and, finally, update network disaster recovery plans.

This was last published in December 2012

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