No matter where you are in the management food chain, if you work in information technology in the government, eventually you will rub against a request for proposal. Crafting a smart procurement document takes more than technology knowledge, more than buying savvy and more than management instinct. It takes equal measures of all three; and, frankly, it takes guts.
Here are five pointers from folks who've had a hand in crafting some of the trickiest federal IT solicitations.
1. Cut the fat. This is far less obvious than it would seem. At the Homeland Security Department, the team running the agencywide IT services buy, EAGLE — which stands for Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge solutions — made its RFP straightforward. It identified five needs areas, detailed the types of contracts that will be awarded, and set open and small-business award tracks. By keeping the solicitation simple, DHS told bidders it wanted only responses ranging from 40 to 60 pages, allowing for quick evaluations and speedy award. The goal: "a suite of contractors as flexible and broad as possible to meet the needs of the department."
— William Thoreen, DHS contracting officer
2. Think beyond the current buy. Maybe you can leverage a buy for other projects the agency has going or for needs predicted on the horizon. At the FBI, the plan is to use the Sentinel procurement — the buy that is replacing the problem-plagued Trilogy to modernize the bureau's core systems — to support other IT needs such as document management. Because Sentinel is aligned with the department's new enterprise architecture and a service-oriented architecture, "as we are picking platforms and products, they are not only going to be for Sentinel."
— FBI CIO Zal Azmi
3. Go governmentwide. Most technical needs in your agency are comparable to the needs of another agency or several other agencies. Either opening up your buy to users across government or partnering with just one other agency will lead to better economies of scale and result in more, better and price-advantageous bids. "The challenge is really in gathering and aggregating all the requirements."
— John Sindelar, the General Services Administration's acting chief of governmentwide policy
4. Plan for consolidation and integration. Include specific options in the requirements that let the agency bring other applications and systems into a new contract. At Homeland Security, "EAGLE provides a path toward consolidation because we can roll items into it as disparate contracts and programs expire."
— Homeland Security Chief Technology Officer Lee Holcomb
5. Keep it small. Even if the project is extremely complex, as is the case for overhauling the systems of the Internal Revenue Service, to keep a project moving requires breaking it into multiple buys that won't stall technology deployment and refreshment. The IRS underestimated the complexity of its legacy systems and so its requirements did not reflect the ultimate demands it would place on its vendor. Ultimately, the project fell behind schedule. "In the current IT environment, three to four years to deployment is not acceptable."
— Richard Spires, associate CIO for IRS Business Systems Modernization