Request for Proposals (RFP) are commonly used in specific industry segments as the main way for organizations to address procurement. For that matter, the US Government is by far the largest producer of procurement requests.

As a Federal Integrator, IT Vendor, VAR or minority owned business wanting to deal with the government its part of life. Of course, the federal government is not the only one. States, Counties, School Districts, Higher Education uses a similar process for procurements at least for major procurements.

Having worked for over a decade with numerous government and military contractors in the DC Metro area I can assure you that your only way into most Federal, State and Local entities is thru the RFP process.

Perhaps one of the of the process any technical lead dreads is the Request for Proposal process. Some folks would find these RFP processes to be less enjoyable than a “root canal”.

Request for Information (RFI), Request for Quotation (RFQ) and Request for Proposals (RFP) can be a time consuming and essentially painful process for both the customer and the vendor aka “bidder”.

To be honest if your a government integrator already familiar with the procurement process then your learning curve should be minimal. The real question is whether you can your understand the request both from a business side and a technical side to make a valid response around blockchain?

Most government focused firms area great with legacy hardware and software but generally are not well versed in emerging technologies. With blockchain its the wild west essentially since the technology is ever evolving and limited practical scale has been proven.

I will say the increase of blockchain industry solicitations(RFI, RFQ, RFP) are clearly increasing. This could be a great time for your company to get experience in this area and establish your company with some real “past performance” in blockchain.

Blockchain technology could be very useful for government use cases due to the fact that many of blockchain’s properties, features and functions are what governments need and are looking for. For that matter even if they do not directly ask for it:)

For example: Three of Blockchains main properties that governments could really need and generally ask for are:

  1. Immutability
  2. Transparency
  3. Efficiency (Reduce intermediaries)

One of the other features, decentralization, well, lets say governments just do not seem to want that feature. Why?

However, when you consider the main tool for productivity in a blockchain, the “smart contract” that is where you can really provide a valid response to a procurement solicitation. For example, strictly understand and address the benefits of how smart contracts and DApps can used to “respond” to an RFP.

Lets refresh our memory on Smart Contracts.

A “Smart Contact” is computer code running on top of a blockchain network. Really, its that simple. The same thing we have been doing for the last 40 plus years. Writing code.

However, from an industry perspective to expand on the definition (to ensure that we make things more complex than needed) here is the complex definition.

A smart contract enforces rules under which two or more parties agree to during an interaction with each other. A smart contract is neither smart nor a legal contract in most cases. (Yes, I know Corda for example has legal prose but again lets not make this difficult since the audience may not be technical)

Smart contracts are designed (written)with pre-defined rules that need to be met. When the rules are met the agreement is automatically enforced(No manual process).

The smart contract code facilitates, verifies, and enforces an agreement that is made in computer code. Like a webhook, trigger or a message based on logic. If you meet the requirements of the smart contract then a transaction essentially occurs on the blockchain.

RFP Speak — Smart Contracts provide several benefits and all of which you need to translate to “Gov Speak”. I wont be going into the 101 of what these features are since there is a ton of content on blockchain 101.

However, when responding to an RFP you may want to consider these features that smart contracts address and of course provide responses that add value to the blockchain solution:

  • Autonomy
  • Trust
  • Backup
  • Safety
  • Speed
  • Savings
  • Accuracy

We know the US Government is a “bloated gluten” and anything you can do around created efficiencies for the taxpayers should be welcomed. However, thats not always the case as any experienced in the area knows.

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The main point is that you need to know your client or your customer. For example, the Department of Defense could like care less about a lot of these features and benefits and more about data collection, analysis and control.

But on the other hand agencies that are in “budgetary decline” such as numerous civilian agencies would be ideal to address the financial engineering needs that blockchains can address. Remove as many intermediaries as possible for example.

For example an interesting RFP was isssued by the Dept of Homeland Security. You can check out a great post by Cryptoslate that sums up the requirements the DHS is looking for. The main thing to address is around “efficiency”.

U.S. Government Funding Blockchain: Department of Homeland Security Accepting Proposals
The Department of Homeland Security posted a solicitation for proposals for companies that can improve government…

Making a leap to a blockchain solution is not a big deal assuming you have competent people knowledgeable in blockchains who can translate open system requirements into jargon the federal government can appreciate.

We know that these procurement processes are tedious, complex, structured and require a team effort to complete them properly. Before even thinking of taking on a Blockchain related RFP your organization better ensure they have the right expertise on board.

On another note responding to RFPS can be a spectacular way to waste your companies’ resources if you’re not careful. The win rates for RFPs are really low in alot of cases, even for incumbents. Not too mention when you pissed away $80,000 to hire an SME to address the RFP and then the governments cancels the request… You know..Stuff happens.

For example, having one “response” that might not be clear to customer can rule out your organization to a potential bidder and winner. You need to appreciate that most RFPs for example are not worth even considering competing in a lot of situations.

Below is the standard Request for Proposal (RFP) workflow process for the US Federal Government acquisitions for example.

Figure 1 US Government Procurement Process

Government Procurement Process Acronyms

RFPs require responses and these responses need to be what address the customers requirements in the solicitation.

The RFP will certainly provide a list of questions that each company interested in building the response must answer. These could include prior experience, proposed timelines, team members, publications, and other relative information.

Generally, the RFP would be distributed to all the companies identified during the RFI process by the government agency. ( I wont go into how this process really works)

During the RFP process the most important task is the proposal development. This is where the “respondent” company will respond to the RFP with their solution and how it would be proposed.

The RFP questions are often very detailed, and the answers will provide a thorough look at the interested companies.

For example, the RFI will ask a standardized set of questions concerning your company’s history, technical capabilities, partnerships, business plans, ownership, and other key details.

So in a nutshell the government procurement process is time consuming, costly and historically burdensome in many ways. Responding to a government procure requires expertise but when blockchain is thrown in there you really need to tread lightly.

Carry On

Pre Order my book on Amazon! Architecting Enterprise Blockchain Solutions from Wiley Sybex.

Check out some of my other articles on Medium on Blockchain

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Check out my Youtube as well for helpful videos!

Joe Holbrook, “The Cloud Tech Guy”

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