When an RFP is required
In the following certain circumstances, writing an RFP and attaching it to your Form 470 is required:
- Your state or local laws require one
- You are bidding any of the following Category 1 services:
- Leased Dark Fiber with or without special construction
- Self-provisioned networks
- Network equipment
- Maintenance & operations
Additionally, if the Form 470 narrative box is not enough to adequately describe your needs, then it is advisable to write an RFP even if it is not required.
Before the RFP
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.Reaching Out to Potential Vendors
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.
Request for Information (RFI)
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:
Other Considerations Specific to Category 2
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.
Drafting an RFP
The actual content of the RFP can be broken down into information to provide and information to request. Your RFP should clearly state who you are and what you’re looking for, but it also should ask what services they are able to offer and how will they deliver that service specifically to you. The more relevant information you provide, the more appropriate the responses will be.
Reminder: Do not state a preference for a particular service type or component. Even if you believe a particular service will meet your current and future needs the best, stating a preference for this is a violation of E-rate’s fair and competitive bidding rules. By doing this, you risk having any funding requests associated with your RFP denied.Things to provide in an RFP
- Your school district overview
- Project Summary
- Purpose (goals, objectives, drivers)
- Current Environment (As-Is) – what your network is like now
- Scope of work (overall, service requirements)
- Proposal submission guidelines
- Administrative and Legal Requirements
- A specific response template or matrix for vendors to use when submitting their proposal. This will limit irrelevant information and reduce the likelihood of receiving “boilerplate” responses.
Things to request in the RFP
- Service Capabilities
- Service Proposal
- Service Cost
- Describe start-up requirements or lead time required to begin services
- Describe Invoicing, remittance, reconciliation process
- Describe any additional professional services that may be beneficial to you
- Organization charts
- Annual sales numbers
- Company history
- Bandwidth increases on Category 1 services
- Site surveys for wi-fi upgrades
Things to review before releasing the RFP
- Is it clear what the RFP is asking for?
- Does your RFP comply with E-rate, state-level, and local bidding rules?
- Are the goals of the project clear?
- Are the roles of each party clearly defined?
- Is it clear what the next steps are in the procurement process?
General milestones for dealing with vendors and RFP's
- Release the RFP
- Conduct vendor conferences and site visits (if necessary)
- Allow vendors to submit questions while you wait for their responses
- Vendors submit their responses by set deadline
- Give yourself ample time to review and conduct follow-up Q&A, if needed
REMINDER: If a vendor submits any questions about the RFP and you answer them, all questions and answers must be publicly posted as an addendum to your RFP. This addendum also restarts the 28-day Form 470 window. Failure to post questions and answers publicly or failure to wait 28 days after posting is a violation of fair and competitive bidding. This can result in the denial of a funding request.