IT procurement needn't be complicated. When we boil it down, we are just looking for the best technology to meet a specific business need. In this article, we take a look at the key steps in an IT procurement process and the ones that really will help to find the very best vendor and technology solution for your particular business challenge.
Viewpoint Analysis Ltd acts as a 'technology matchmaker'. We work with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help them find the best technology (software, hardware, SaaS) and run a variety of IT procurement services to get them to their goal. What's more, the Viewpoint Analysis team comes from a technology sales background, so we know exactly how to work with the leading vendors and get the very best from them - it's our secret sauce!
IT Procurement Process Steps
IT procurement generally has a number of steps, but the four process elements are:
Research the market - gathering feedback about the potential options.
Issuing a Request For Information (RFI) to a wide group of vendors.
Issuing a Request For Proposal (RFP) to a shortlist of final options.
Vendor Selection - scoring and selecting the final partner.
This four-step process takes a customer from not knowing the marketplace, to a 'longlist' of suitable vendors and onto a shortlist and final selection in a few hops. The challenge is, many companies make a project of IT procurement and it is not unusual for these four steps to take months to complete - particularly in large organizations. If this is the route you go down, it's all wrong. Place the priority on getting the project moving - not the selection process.
Researching the IT Market
If you have a business challenge and know that you need a technology platform to solve it, that's a great first step. The problem tends to be where to start on the journey. In most cases, the team experiencing the problem has not spent time looking outside of the business, they have been busy working in the business. Where do you start to try to find a solution that can help?
There are a few easy steps to get the ball rolling and start building the list of vendor options:
Talking to your peers - a great start is to talk to people within your business and your peers working in similar businesses. In many cases, you will know someone who has experienced a similar challenge and knows the IT market a little better than you. Get out and socialize your problem.
Search the web - an obvious step is to search Google or ask ChatGPT - it's a basic step and will obviously uncover lots of options for you.
Analyst reports - take a look at the likes of Gartner, Forrester, and others. These technology analyst businesses write reports that talk to the particular technology vendors, what they do, and whether they should be considered for your needs.
Technology guides - there are a variety of technology guides that might be helpful to you. A good example is our own Longlist Guide where we call out different vendors that can be useful to contact for specific technology issues.
Another great way to quickly assess your options is to just get out and talk to different vendors. One approach that we use at Viewpoint Analysis is our 'Technology Matchmaker' - it consists of two steps - writing up a technology challenge brief that can be shared with the vendor community, and matchmaker presentations where they can attend and explain what they can do to help you. It doesn't have to be complicated - the only thing we want to do at this point is build a 'longlist' of options.
Request for Information Process (RFI)
If we have done a good job in the initial step, we should have a 'longlist' of different technology vendors that we can now go that step further with and issue an RFI (or Request for Information to give it a formal title).
The RFI can be as long or short as you want it to be. There is a health warning here though - an RFI should not be a project itself, it's meant to quickly sort the good vendors from the also-rans. We run a super-quick 'Rapid RFI' to get through this process quickly. You can take a look at our Rapid RFI template to get an idea of how to run the process yourself.
We say that it carries a health warning because the real key is to spend time with your shortlist of vendors - not the longlist. If an RFI is run properly, it should take a short period of time to get a really quick viewpoint on the vendors that are worth investing time with. You will find through the RFI process that some vendors:
Are easier or harder to work with - and are more professional than others.
Have a modern user interface that you can work with - or not.
Have pricing in the ballpark you believe can be signed off by your leadership team.
Have a good vision for the future.
Have a solution that you can see working for your team.
Getting the RFI done and dusted means we can then focus on spending some quality time with those vendors that are really a decent fit for the particular need that we have. Aim to issue the RFI to any company that you want to hear from - don't be restricted by numbers at this stage.
Request for Proposal Process (RFP)
The RFP stage of the IT procurement process should be reserved for real contenders - do not make the mistake of having a long list of options here, the RFP is for your shortlist. We recommend no more than five or six vendors should be worthy of getting through to the RFP - remember we want to spend time with these sales teams if they are genuinely your best options.
The RFP stage is where we need to be accurate and set the final vendors the specific challenge that we want to address. However, again, it is all too common to see this part of the process take an inordinate amount of time. It is common to see businesses issue hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of questions - do not do this!
There are some key traps to avoid:
Let the vendors know that your RFP is coming - please don't just land it on their desk.
Explain and sell to the vendors - let them know why they need to work with you.
Focus on the challenge you are facing - not on sending them thousands of functional questions.
Keep the vendor list short - between 4 and 6 vendors.
Meet your timescales - let them know your process but stick to it.
Vendor Selection and Scoring
The final part of the IT procurement process - vendor selection - choosing a partner from your shortlist. This can be easier said than done but there are a number of suggested approaches to getting this done well. They are:
Be impartial and take away any emotions - we like to run a 'vendor head to head' to provide an analytical comparison, you can do the same.
Use a strong scoring methodology - take a look at our RFP scoring guide so that you can follow the suggested steps.
Let the vendors know how you are going to make the selection decision - this really helps them to help you.
Summary - IT Procurement Process Guide
IT procurement should not be complicated - but it can be difficult for those who do not do this for a living. Try working with the four steps that we outlined above - it will take the business challenge and get you to a preferred vendor. Try to move quickly though - getting a new solution in place and up and running is the priority, not the buying process!
If you like our approach - using our Technology Matchmaker Service, Rapid RFI, and Rapid RFP - drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'd be happy to talk through how we can help. We can do one part of the process (e.g. the Matchmaker to get you started, or run the whole selection.