Once you officially release your RFP, the amount of communication you can have with vendors and their solutions will be significantly limited. Therefore, there are several things you should do after deciding on your network upgrade but before you start writing an RFP.
There are a few guidelines you may want to follow in order to build a good working relationship with your potential supplier.
- Always have a rough idea of what a total solution will cost. If you receive bids that are too far outside of your budget, your time issuing the RFP and the vendors’ time responding has been wasted. Though it is not generally a good idea to tell the vendors what your budget is (they may not submit an aggressive bid if they know your budget), you should talk with them to get a sense of what the total solution might cost.
- Provide prep time. Inform suppliers in advance of your intent to put out an RFP, giving them ample time to assess any infrastructure updates.
- Control the project. You should absolutely listen to your supplier’s guidance but be careful to not let them drive the process and ensure their suggestions benefit you.
- Create competition. The more suppliers you invite to the candidate pool, the more options you have when it comes to picking your vendor. Sometimes, it may be worth your time to look into non-traditional suppliers – for example, fiber construction firms, to drive competition in the RFP.
By issuing an RFI before official procurement, you can identify which providers offer service in your area and get an overview of their solutions and service offerings. This will also generate interest and create competition for your future RFP. Any information supplied in an RFI is non-binding and the process is not for formal procurement.
A good timeline is to post an RFI at the start of the school year and leave it open for a month. This will give you 2-4 weeks to review responses, write your RFP, and post the RFP by late Fall.
Note that E-rate has no rules or requirements about issuing an RFI, so the only requirements to follow are those laid out by your local and state procurement laws. EducationSuperHighway has compiled an RFI template and examples:
ESH – RFI Samples and Template
For Category 2, there are some extra considerations and tasks before writing an RFP.
- Solutions Testing: Most manufacturers will lend you test equipment that you can install in your environment (they may even assist you) and test over the course of several weeks. This really allows you to get a feel for the complexity to implement these networks, as well as the performance, monitoring, and management over time. It is important to buy equipment that you ior your team are capable of managing day-to-day.
- Understand Licensing Models for Each Manufacturer: The purpose of the license and the services provided under a license can vary by product line. Some systems require a license that simply allows a WAP to associate to the controller. Other systems’ licenses enable access to a cloud controller, firmware updates, software updates, and technical support. Some manufacturers charge a license fee every year, while others have multi-year licenses available. Each manufacturer’s model is different, so you should talk with your vendor about required licenses to help you fully understand the ongoing cost of your new wireless network.
- History of the Product Line and Manufacturer: research and ask the manufacturer about their history. Are they new to the industry or do they have an established product line and market share? Are they coming out with new product lines or have they gone stagnant? How often do they release bug fixes or new software/firmware? You don’t want to invest in a vendor who is not keeping their products up to date with the latest technologies or who is not financially stable.