BY Achmad Chadran

This is part four of a four-part series!

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Okay, folks, we’re down to brass tacks with this series. Now that you’ve assembled your team, collectively agreed on your solution goals, and engaged with peers, analysts, and other resources to create your shortlist, it’s time to talk about two invaluable solicitation vehicles, RFIs and RFPs.

I can’t overstate the need to do the necessary groundwork before proceeding! Please make  sure you read the previous posts in this series:

Part 1: A Three-Step Approach to Finding the Right Predictive Maintenance Solution
Part 2: Define Predictive Analytics Success on Your Own Terms
Part 3: Embrace Your Search

Every ounce of due diligence you invest in this program will pay back dividends. Trying to cut corners could put your whole program at risk.

 

RFIs and RFPs

These are tools and processes you’ll use to ensure proper alignment between your solution and your needs. You may see them used interchangeably, but they’re actually very different animals.

RFIs are Requests for Information. They’re most useful in addressing gaps in the decision team’s understanding of the solution space. RFIs work best when they’re built using open-ended questions. If you decide to incorporate RFIs, be sure to describe your business challenges and goals at a high level. Avoid specifying any solution specifics, leaving that work to your providers, who in any case you should press to demonstrate their breadth and depth in these matters. This information solicitation is actually most effective when issued early in the research process, say, as a last step in developing your solution provider shortlist.

RFPs are Requests for Proposals. This solicitation type asks vendors for specific solutions to meet your goals and overcome your challenges. As with RFIs, RFPs work most effectively when they present open-ended questions. Just make sure your questions prompt vendors to detail the individual components, services, methodology, and costs to deploy and maintain their solutions, to simplify making apples-to-apples comparisons.

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Do You Need Both?

Now that we’ve clarified the differences between these two solicitation processes, you may ask whether both are necessary for predictive analytics success.

The short answer is “no.”

However, I’d recommend that you use the RFI process to give your shortlisted providers the opportunity to share with you their full range of offerings. This may be your last chance to consider alternative approaches, techniques, or technologies, so it works to both your advantage and that of your vendors.

Of course, your RFI process may uncover a deal-breaker issue that takes a solution provider out of further consideration; again, this serves both you and the provider.

Once you’ve done this, I recommend that you advance your most promising vendors to the RFP stage. For predictive analytics solutions, the RFP will let you and your prospective providers get into the details. How will their systems talk to your systems? How many user seats are included and/or required? What kind of tech support comes standard, and what premium support is available?

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Now to The Finalists

Quick recap: working with a consensus view of your solution needs, you and your team have systematically narrowed down a universe of candidates to a small set of finalists. How small a set? Ideally, two. Two finalists assures that you still have a choice between two equally-viable candidates. If you and your team have the bandwidth, time, and resources, you might wish to extend your finalist list to three.

But since the next step is to conduct a small-scale pilot of each finalist’s solution, the downside of longer finalist lists is the additional time and expense involved. And time and expense aren’t trivial at this stage. You and other stakeholders will want to sit down with your finalists, define the scope, goals, parameters, and timeframes for your pilots.

While it’s impossible to formulate identical pilot implementations for each finalist, the more closely they resemble each other, the easier to compare experiences and results, and therefore the easier to make your ultimate selection.

As with previous steps, your team can simplify the pilot evaluation process through the use of scorecards. Define one scorecard for use with all pilots and share scoring criteria with your finalists in advance.

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Enjoy the Journey

I hope you found this three-step process helpful.

Of course, your own experience may differ significantly from those of others; you may well blaze your own trails in this quest, taking liberties with the prescriptions offered in this series. My main intention in this blog series is to take the fear and mystery out of the selection process.

We at Atonix Digital hope you’ll share your insights and experiences with us in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to get started by reviewing our Monitoring and Diagnostics SaaS offering.

 


Achmad Chadran

Achmad is responsible for identifying and analyzing market requirements for ASSET360-based products and solutions. Prior to joining Atonix, he held market and product strategy positions at Mimecast, Barracuda Networks, Dell, and Siemens.

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