In almost ten years in search consulting, you can’t help but encounter a good amount of requests for proposal (RFPs). These documents that formally solicit proposals from technology vendors and systems integrators (SI) serve as an integral piece for companies, non-profit or government agencies interested in procuring a technology solution or service. In this article, we will discuss why technology RFPs need to focus on use cases rather than a list of questions/features in an excel or word document.
Why now? Insight engines and artificial intelligence solutions are proving business value. Combine this with the Google Search Appliance sunsetting announcement last year means organizations that are left with several viable options for solving business related search initiatives. The number of possible choices has led to many choosing to RFP their search technology re-platforming. I have been coming across these RFPs and find them frustrating because they often are using the same RFP template that the organization would use to procure light bulbs or mousepads. Technology solutions, specifically search and search-derivative solutions, should not be handled like a commodity item.
Additionally, a keyword in RFP is “Proposal.” A proposal is a plan or suggestion. If you are asking for a proposal, you assume there’s a problem or need. The potential impact, both positive and (if implemented incorrectly) negative of search on your organization warrants a different approach to requesting proposals. In this article we’ll detail two changes you should make to your RFP to ensure better RFP responses, they are:
- Move to use case procurement
- Features only matter in context
First, switch to a use case based procurement mode
Technology purchasing and implementation should always be informed by and serve business use cases and outcomes. The business use case is how stakeholders and funding are secured. An active stakeholder with a clear understanding of at least one use case for the technology is vital to present the request for proposal out to potential vendors.
Use case based procurement does not focus on specific features or technology platforms (open source for example). It instead focuses responses from vendors on how their technology or service can solve your business problem, hence the proposal. Use cases drive value by applying technology to solving business problems for users.
Understanding your use case
It is our experience that almost all use cases for insight engines fall into three categories. Knowing where your use case fits within these categories can help your organization select the appropriate technology.
Insight engines should be central to your customer’s and employee’s journeys. Placing this technology in the center of these experiences has tremendous brand impact and influence towards producing revenue improvements. Directing customers to the best product yields better sales while improving sales agents efficiency, which means more time spent on closing the right deals.
Reduce Cost / Increase efficiency
There has been plenty of industry research supporting the cost saving ROI model. Reducing the time it takes your users to complete their journey is a strong use case for search technology. This category includes proactive case deflection, customer self-service, and support agent enablement.
Management of Risk
Training can? be a differentiator for any organization. Ensuring compliance with governmental regulations while a niche use case, where applicable, has incredible potential. Insight engines can monitor streams of data for patterns of fraud and noncompliance. Additionally, discovery work is completed in a fraction of time when the engine does most the heavy lifting.
Understand that features only matter in context
Technology features are great. What is better is when those features actually can be leveraged to solve your organization’s use case. We found the best way to determine a good technology match is through a full matrix of categories for scoring. We suggest scoring of the capabilities of a platform from core feature set to its licensing model with one of five designations:
- Does not support
- Supports with Customization
- Meets Expectation (considered ‘out of the box’)
- Exceeds expectation
- Best in Class (typically only one vendor)
Every search technology while inherently different share similar ‘core features’ you should expect from the technology category. In our experience, we consider core features of a product are: the index technology itself, ingestion and query enhancement through pipelining, an API interface, the scalability, and, most importantly for most of our clients, the specifics of a platform’s security.
You can only search and retrieve content that the indexing system can access. Connectivity between a search platform and your content repositories is vital, whether your content is in the cloud or on-prem. Some questions to consider and ask of potential vendors are: How do the connectors (if any) work? What is the security? Are they extendable?
Natural Language Processing (NLP) & Machine Learning
Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning are real, and their impact on your organization can be profound if the use case warrants implementing them. These technologies can improve the user experience and increase ‘positive outcomes’ for your customers and users.
Advanced features are more platform specific and could be considered key differentiators. Robust reporting or additional analytics are often considered advanced features.
Scoring the Company & Licensing Model
An organization needs to know with whom they are doing business. How confident are you that the technology/vendor will be around in 5 years? Do they offer training? Is the product documentation public and up to date? What is the technology roadmap for the next 3 – 5 years? Are the vendors you are considering on the Gartner or other industry reports? Does the platform align with your industry vertical?
I hope you make use of these simple and straightforward recommendations in your next formal request for proposal. Driving to define how technology will deliver business value is a proper use of all or our time. Contact MC+A and see how we can help you better understand how these technologies can help meet your strategic goals.