Getting to know Cloud Request For Proposals (RFP's)

Request for Proposal’s (RFP’s) are generally not one of the more enjoyable exercises for technical engineers.

RFPs can be very challenging to respond to and for that matter propose a solution mainly due to the format they are solicited.

Generally, these RFP’s are made publicly available and effectively posted on different websites.

Another factor I have found can come into play especially with Cloud based proposals is that soliciting organization does not actually understand what the cloud is and for that matter what types of services and data are a good fit.

The biggest challenge for a technical engineer, pre-sales engineer, etc who is responding to a cloud proposal is to comprehend what the customer is actually requesting a solution for.

The quality of the proposal when its released can vary widely based on the organization.

For example, is the customer actually relaying the “pain points”, usability requests or properly stating the migration requirements.

Did the customer intentionally reference AWS in the RFP or was “Kinesis” placed in there as an example or other reason?

Lets cover the following subjects.

  • What exactly is an RFP?
  • What are Common Cloud RFP Questions to respond to?

What exactly is an RFP?

Request for Proposals (RFP) are commonly used in specific industry segments as the main vehicle for organizations to address procurement for their enterprises which from a cost perspective is over a mandated cost.

Issuing an RFP is generally a detailed process that an organization goes through to communicate a need for specific solutions and services. The RFP invites relevant vendors to submit a proposal to meet the desired need (By solving a problem in most cases).

More specifically, the RFP is a document that explains a project’s needs and asks for proposed solutions from potential vendors. (Vendors must propose a solution and meet requirements thru a specified procurement process)

 Procurement is also referred to as an “acquisition” in the US Federal Sector for example and these acquisitions are regulated by statutes dealing with US Federal contracts and the US Federal contracting process. Titles 10, 31, 40, and 41 of the United States Code are generally the common references for US Federal Contracting.

These procurement exercises (RFI, RFP and RFI) whether placed out to the market by the military, intelligence or civilian agencies are generally known at both the federal, state or local levels as a “solicitation” from the government

Even large commercial companies will solicit bidders for an RFP as well. You as a solutions provider or potential vendor may be participating in a cloud based RFP.

We should clarify some terms before we get started about RFP’s

  • The solution provider providing a response to the RFP is the “bidder”. 
  • The customer placing the RFP out for bid is called the “solicitor”.

Part of my work experience for over a decade was focused on government contracting (military and civilian agencies) in the DC Metro area.  As part of this experience I can assure you that your only way into most Federal, State, and Local entities is thru the RFP process.

I generally refer to the Request for Proposal (RFP) as the doorman or gatekeeper since you have no choice but to participate in the process to get more business especially with government agencies.

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

Figure 1 illustrates the standard high-level Request for Proposal (RFP) workflow process steps

From the graphic above we can see the workflow starts with an RFI which is essentially an information gathering request. Then would proceed on to the RFP which is where the work for sales team would be. Lastly, some companies may or may not bypass the RFI and RFP process and just publish an RFQ which is a pricing exercise.

The procurement process also entails a lengthy workflow for what is referred to as “procurement activities” which are one the following Requirements Development, Pre-Award Activities and Post Award Activities.

These processes are generally complex for both the solicitor and the bidder due to extensive government procurement processes, regulations and bidding processes that are generally managed by the General Services Agency (GSA).

There is also a consistently challenged scoring system for example, the GSA uses to rate proposals bids. These challenges are known as “protests” and are usually a result of the company’s evaluation from GSA which can result in a company score that is less favorable to winning the bid.

When an organization decides to proceed with a bid for a government contract for example, there are some industry best practices for assessing and responding to a Request for Proposal(RFP)

RFP’s are also well structured and from a bidder perspective require a team effort to complete them thoroughly.

For example, there are red teams, blue teams, green teams, gold teams and pink teams of which each team would have specific responsibilities around the proposal development. These teams are essentially a logically represented layered approach to the maturity level of the state of the proposal. 

My honest advice before even thinking of taking on a Cloud-related RFP, your organization should ensure that they have the right expertise on board

Joe Holbrook

This is not intentional I believe but more of the solicitor not actually being educated in cloud computing and therefore not understanding the real problems to be solved.

In a nutshell responding to RFPs can be a spectacular way to waste your companies’ resources if you’re not careful reviewing the proposal details.

 For example, having one “response” that might not be “clear” to the solicitor can rule out your organization to qualify as a potential bidder and even the winner of the procurement whether you’re a sub or the prime.

You need to clearly appreciate as well that most RFPs are not worth even considering “competing” or “bidding” for if the customer has not established a proposed use case.

Your organization likely needs to consider the limited resources available and the resources spent on competing especially if the government really does know what the problem is they are trying to solve.

RFPs require detailed technical responses and these technical responses must address the customers’ requirements appropriately.

The RFP will certainly provide a list of questions that each company who is a bidder  must respond to. These could include business focused responses for example, prior experience or company processes to more technical responses to what type of solution would be proposed and even detailed equipment lists.

Generally, the RFP may be distributed to all the companies identified during the RFI process or could be placed out publicly to solicit additional bidders.

During the RFP process the most important task is the proposal development. This is where the responding company(bidder) will respond to the RFP with their solution and how it would be proposed.

RFP questions are often very detailed technically and the bidders need to place great care in how they respond to every question. The responses will provide a thorough look at the bidders and their prospective solutions to solicitor.

Common Cloud RFP Questions to respond to.

For example, with a Cloud RFP/RFI its common to questions that revolve around these specific areas.

Security– How does the Cloud solution manage security? How does the solutions mitigate threats? Does the solution maintain SIEM capabilities with third party solutions?

Support – How does your organization handle support issues and what are past performance in this area?

Integration – How would you integrate our on premise solutions with the cloud service?

Scalability – How does the solution scale? (Vertically, Horizontally, etc)

Usability – Does the solution require advanced training for the user to operate?

On the other hand, 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 which is less technically detailed.

When it comes to procurement processes RFP’s may or may not be part of your organizations business plan. If they are then learning on how to respond should be a priority as well as finding resources that provide insight into responses for your specific organizations markets such as education, government or commercial.

Responding to procurements can be very time consuming even if your experienced.

When considering to responding to a US Federal solicitation there are strict requirements and it would be advisable your organization retains both the business and technical talent to make appropriate responses.

Hire a technical SME that knows the industry and has documented experience.

(Contact TechCommanders)

Joe Holbrook has numerous years in the IT Sector specifically Data and Cloud related procurement exercises in both the US Federal Government, State, Local and even commercial RFPs.

Joe has written well over 40 technical responses for competitive awards for both prime and subcontractors which were on both tens and hundred million dollar contracts.

Joe has worked for in the past in this area companies such as SAIC, Maximus, Vion (HDS Federal) and numerous other smaller firms (8a and Service Disabled).

Joe is able to handle the technical responses in coordination with team members such as your Capture Manager, Proposal Managers or other Subject Matter Experts (SME) and writers.

Joe Holbrook, CLO

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