So you think you need a new computer system. How do you match the right solutions to your needs? As technology solutions become less costly, faster to implement, and more readily available, it is more important than ever to commit the time and resources necessary to choose the best products and services to match your particular business needs. Just because it’s cheap and easy doesn’t mean it’s right for you!
This article covers the format of the Request for Proposal document - just one piece of the overall purchase process. Once you have made the decision to evaluate your company’s technology needs and to commit the resources to selecting and implementing the best solution, be sure to address each of the following steps in the shaded box on the next page.
Special Focus On The Request for Proposal
How do you identify your requirements? What features and functions are necessary to accomplish your purpose? You may find help in publications like the ALTA® Directory of Technology Products and Services also in this issue. New software programs may be able to do things you have never imagined. Be sure to do a little research and educate yourself on new products. But beware of "scope-creep" and stick to your stated scope and purpose - just because the vendor has a new hammer doesn’t mean everything is a nail.
Get Educated - You will also want to educate yourself about the vendor companies. How long has their company been in business? How large is their staff? How many are dedicated to user support and how many to research and development? Who are their competitors?
Memorialize Your Progress - As you identify your requirements, be sure to write them down. Share them and communicate them to team members, vendors, and your entire staff. You never know where new ideas will come from. Get buy-in from the entire staff early and often: You will be depending on them for a successful implementation down the road. This document will guide vendors seeking to meet your needs and also help you to stay on track.
Weight Your Requirements - Now that you have identified and listed your requirements, prioritize and determine the importance of each requirement. Which requirements are "must haves?" Which are "nice-to-haves?" Which are dreams and wishes? You might accomplish this with measurements from 1-10 or high, medium, and low. Billy Gates didn’t write MS word for you, but many of your requirements are included in the product. If you want a custom solution, be prepared to pay a high price in terms of staff time and financial resources.
Formulate Your Request For Proposal - Communicate your requirements to the vendors. When you are ready to determine which products will match your requirements, it’s time to package those requirements with other information and write a Request for Proposal. This document may be formal or informal. Formality is usually governed by the impact the purchase will have on your business. A purchase of mission-critical software like an order and closing package or voice-mail system will often result in a very formal Request for Proposal. To build this document, you will want to include sections on your company history, commitment to technology, staff size and growth prospects, technology selection process, technology selection contact person, calendar and deadlines for selection, implementation timeframe, as well as your requirements information and cost questionnaire.
So, how do you get started? First, use the steps above as a guideline. Sample RFPs are available through many vendors, other title professionals, consultants and underwriters. Second, do your homework. Start with surveys like the pull-out section in the center of this magazine to learn about new products and features. You may also decide to employ a consultant to help with the education process. Attend as many technology conferences and training sessions as possible to stay current.
In conclusion, make a commitment to put your time, dollars, and the right people to work on this project. Write down your decision-making process. Determine and document your scope and stick to it. Communicate your needs using a written document, like the Request for Proposal described above. If it’s not written down, you don’t have a plan, and you won’t achieve your purpose. Be sure to measure your success down the road by referring back to your documentation and recognizing all that you’ve accomplished. And remember: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!
What do you hope to accomplish? Set your boundaries and determine which spe- cific systems or business processes will be part of the project. Once you’ve set the scope of the project, stand firm. Put it in writing and remind yourself and the team of the project limits.
Be honest about the overall purpose of the project. Do you want to reduce costs? Improve customer service? Keep your business on the cutting edge of technology? Or keep your geek status on the bleeding edge? Again, memorialize your decision. Remind yourself and your team of the desired end-result of your efforts.
Determine your company’s "best of the best" in business and technology and make sure they accept change. If you are not willing to commit these valuable resources, it will be difficult to succeed.
A techno-nerd term for "whadda ya want?" More specifically, this is where you look at your purpose and identify how you will know you have accomplished your purpose at the end of the project. Did you decrease your costs by the 10 percent stated in the purpose? Did your turnaround time decrease from five days to one day?
The Request for Proposal - this part of the process has become one of the most crucial steps towards successful system selection and implementation. The main body of this article provides additional guidance and information to help you with this step.
As part of the Request for Proposal, you will want to include a cost questionnaire for each vendor to complete so that you can compare costs head-to-head. Include such items as software licensing costs, network licensing costs, hardware costs, user group fees, annual subscription fees, training costs, support costs, consultation costs, conversion costs, upgrade costs, and customization costs.
Once you have made your selection and are ready to bring new technology into your operation, it’s time to plan your implementation. Evaluate your current staff and the cultural change that you are about to experience. Do you need to hire additional staff or provide special training to existing staff to properly administer your new technology? An implementation plan should include schedules for installation, data conversion, training, testing, and transition to the new system.
As a final step, return to the scope, purpose, and needs assessment. Measure your success.
It is now time to review NEW technology -- with today’s pace of technology development, by the time you finish, it’s time to start again!