RST Software
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Magdalena Jackiewicz
Reviewed by a tech expert

How to write a good software development Request for Information (RFI)?

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Imagine embarking on a journey to create not just any software, but a cutting-edge marketplace platform with seamless chat app integration and support for geolocation services. The stakes are high, and the complexity is even higher. Now, picture this: you're inundated with proposals from vendors, but they're all experts in crafting landing pages – not the intricate, multifaceted software you need. Frustrating, isn't it?

You're not just looking for a vendor; you're searching for a partner who can translate your vision into digital reality. In this article, we’re diving into the world of RFIs - your first step towards a successful partnership with the right software development company. Discover the ins and outs, the dos and don'ts, and the subtle art of crafting an RFI that brings your project to life with the right team by your side.

What is an RFI in software development?

A Request for Information (RFI) in the realm of software development represents a critical, formal inquiry crafted by a business or organization. Its purpose is to methodically collect comprehensive information from prospective software development vendors or service providers. Typically utilized during the preliminary phases of a project, or when an organization is in the process of contemplating the acquisition of software development services, an RFI is crucial in instances where specific project requirements are yet to be precisely determined, or a vendor selection has not been finalized.

RFP vs. RFI vs. RFQ

The RFI (Request for Information), RFP (Request for Proposal), and RFQ (Request for Quotation) are all documents used at different stages of the procurement process. The table below illustrates the main differences between them.

RFI RFP RFQ
Purpose To explore the market and gather general information about potential vendors. To outline specific goals, requirements, and criteria for the project to effectively select a suitable vendor. To ensure the project is procured at the best possible price.
Focus To create a broad pool of suitable vendors. To narrow down the number of vendors. To make the final selection.
Stage Used early in the process, the company may not be ready for a purchase yet. Used when a company knows they have a specific project or challenge to address. Used in the final stage, when the company knows exactly what they want.

What are the advantages of an RFI?

Employing a Request for Information in the preliminary stages of procuring software services is not just a procedural step; it's a strategic maneuver that can significantly enhance the quality and suitability of the final software product.

Consider it the foundational stage of your procurement journey, where you embark on a mission to identify and assemble a comprehensive list of potential suppliers. This isn't just any list - it's a carefully curated compilation of vendors who have the potential to transform your vision into a digital masterpiece.

Here's why companies that leverage RFIs often end up building superior software products compared to those that don't:

Comprehensive market insight and vendor comparison

Using an RFI helps companies to thoroughly explore the market, spotting a variety of potential vendors each with their own unique skills and strengths. This broad search makes it easier to make a well-informed choice, boosting the chances of finding a vendor whose know-how really matches what the project needs.

Enhanced fit analysis

The responses to an RFI lay the groundwork for a thorough comparison of potential vendors. This isn't just about who's got the best tech skills; it's also about seeing how each vendor's style and methods mesh with the company's vision and culture. Finding that fit is crucial for ending up with a software project that really hits the mark.

Optimization of time and financial resources

By using RFIs to vet vendors early on, companies can dodge the costly and time-consuming mistake of teaming up with the wrong service providers. This smart move in the early stages of buying helps save both time and money, which can then be put towards making the software itself even better.

Risk reduction and Quality Assurance

Getting a clear picture of each vendor's strong points and weaknesses from their Request for Information responses really helps in cutting down risks like project delays, going over budget, and problems with the quality of the work. This kind of proactive approach in managing risks is a big deal for creating a solid, top-quality software product.

Fostering collaborative relationships

The Request for Information process kick-starts early conversations with vendors, laying the foundation for open and cooperative relationships. These kinds of partnerships are great for developing software products that aren’t just technically strong, but also in tune with what the client is aiming to achieve strategically.

Alignment with current and future market dynamics

Responses to RFIs can be a goldmine of information about the latest tech trends and upcoming innovations. When you weave this kind of market know-how into your software development, it helps make sure your product stays relevant and can hold its own in the competitive market.

Ensuring compliance and diligence

Making sure that potential vendors stick to industry standards and meet regulatory compliance is key for keeping things legal and running smoothly. RFIs are really important in this process of checking everything is as it should be. This step is vital to make sure the software product is credible and built to last.

How to write a clear and effective RFI document?

If you intend to order an app development service and are looking for reliable vendors who have the potential to deliver it, follow these seven steps:

Step 1: Provide general information about the project in question

In order to establish a clear understanding among potential vendors regarding the project’s scope and context, it is vital to provide them with fundamental details. Only with this information can they evaluate whether they meet the project requirements and have the relevant service profile and capacity.

Moreover, clear and comprehensive project details increase the likelihood that Request for Information responses will be in line with the project’s objectives, which, in turn, aids in evaluating vendors and choosing the best partner.

Failure to provide important details may result in generic or irrelevant vendor information, miscommunication, mismatched expectations and ultimately, unnecessary time and effort for both parties.

Step 2: Describe the confidentiality terms

Let’s assume you have come up with an entirely innovative software concept, app functionality, or new business model. Keeping this idea from reaching your competitors before you even start developing it is crucial.

A Request for Information frequently involves sharing commercially sensitive information that, in the event of a leak or improper use, could harm your company’s competitive advantage and strategic interests.

Protecting sensitive data disclosed during the RFI process can be achieved by defining the confidentiality terms and intellectual property scope in a Request for Information within a legal framework. This ensures that all parties understand the restrictions on use and dissemination of this information, creates an environment of trust, establishes clear boundaries and consequences for violations, and aids in preventing potential legal disputes.

We also encourage you to include financial penalties in the event of a breach. This might weed out low-trust vendors or companies with insufficient data security measures.

Step 3: Deliver clear project goals

By definition, the RFI stage involves a request for information from you to potential vendors and not the other way around, but providing clearly defined project goals is a must.

Well-articulated objectives in a Request for Information help to ensure that responses are relevant and accurate, which is crucial for informed decision-making. They allow vendors to understand the scope and purpose of the project and align their responses with your goals.

Communicating project objectives can be beneficial for your organization in a number of ways. It reduces the risk of misunderstandings, saves time on back-and-forth communication, supports a successful procurement process and, as a result, completion of the whole software project. Vendors can also provide you with valuable insights or concerns related to the project.

Step 4: Outline the required skills and expertise

When laying out the necessary expertise and skills, be comprehensive to ensure you receive relevant information from potential vendors or partners. The list of questions to ask vendors should be precise. Here’s how you can effectively define the requirements:

  • Technical skills: list programming languages, software proficiency, engineering skills, knowledge of certain tools and platforms, etc.
  • Professional expertise: ask for a number of years of experience in a certain industry, regulatory understanding, past work and references.
  • Certifications: if the project requires certain certifications or accreditations, you should, too.
  • Staff skills and experience: define your requirements: junior, mid-level, senior; experienced in similar projects or not.
  • Regulatory compliance: some industries are subject to regulations. If they apply to your business, list these requirements, too.

Optionally, you can also ask vendors to point to awards or recognitions that establish their reputation and reliability in the field.

Step 5: Provide clear guidelines and response deadlines

If you want to receive well-structured responses from vendors, provide them with well-delineated guidelines. Clear rules set expectations from the beginning, define what information is required, what format the response should be presented in, and which criteria will be used to evaluate responses. This streamlines the evaluation process and ensures that responses are relevant and comparable.

Thanks to clearly outlined deadlines, vendors have a fair and equal opportunity to gather the necessary information and prepare their submissions. Deadlines provide a schedule vendors need to adhere to and create a sense of urgency, allowing projects to be completed on time.

If you want well-developed responses, give your vendors a reasonable amount of time to craft them. Excessive rush does not foster an atmosphere of careful consideration or benefit any of the parties involved in the procurement process.

Step 6: Designate a contact person

Designate the person responsible for RFI project management. When there is a dedicated contact person, there is no confusion about who is responsible for managing the process and responding to vendor questions, making the clarification process quicker and smoother. This person should have in-depth knowledge about the project requirements, ensuring that the information provided to vendors is consistent and accurate.

Having one person dealing with all the RFIs also guarantees that vendors have the same data and equal opportunities for success.

Step 7: Gather RFIs from a number of different software development vendors

At this stage, gather responses from a broad range of software development vendors. This approach ensures a well-rounded view of the market and helps in understanding different capabilities and methodologies. Aim to include both established firms and newer entities to capture the full spectrum of available expertise. 

Evaluate the completeness and attention to detail in each response as an indicator of the vendor's commitment and suitability for your project. Focus on both the quantity and quality of responses, using consistent criteria for evaluation, to aid in effectively shortlisting potential partners for your app development service.

Essential RFI questions to ask vendors

When submitting a Request for Information (RFI) to software development vendors, it's crucial to ask targeted questions that will give you a comprehensive understanding of their capabilities, experience, and approach. Here are some essential questions to include:

Company background and experience:

  • Can you provide an overview of your company, including its history, size, and core areas of expertise?
  • What is your experience in developing similar software projects? Please provide case studies or examples.

Technical expertise:

  • What programming languages, frameworks, and technologies do you specialize in?
  • How do you stay updated with the latest technology trends and advancements?

Project management and methodology:

  • What project management methodologies do you follow (e.g., Agile, Waterfall)?
  • How do you ensure project deadlines are met, and how do you handle project changes or scope creep?

Quality Assurance and testing:

  • What is your approach to quality assurance and testing?
  • Do you have dedicated QA personnel or teams? What testing methods do you employ?

Communication and work styles:

  • How do you typically communicate with clients during a project?
  • What tools or platforms do you use for project management and collaboration?

Security and compliance:

  • How do you ensure the security of the software you develop?
  • Are you familiar with and able to comply with industry-specific regulations (if applicable)?

References and past work:

  • Can you provide references from past clients?
  • Do you have a portfolio of previous projects that we can review?

Pricing and cost structure:

  • What is your typical pricing model for projects (e.g., fixed price, time and materials)?
  • Can you provide a rough estimate or range for a project similar to ours?

Support and maintenance:

  • What kind of post-development support and maintenance do you offer?
  • Are there different levels of support available, and how are they structured?

Innovation and added value:

  • What unique value or innovative solutions can you bring to our project?
  • How do you approach problem-solving and creative thinking in software development?

Asking these questions will provide a clear picture of each vendor's strengths and weaknesses, helping you make an informed decision in your software development venture.

How to choose the right software development vendor based on the RFI answers?

How should you choose the right software development vendor based on RFI submissions? You can evaluate the RFIs using a simple scoring matrix. Follow the below steps to prepare one:

1: Identify evaluation criteria

Create a list of all the essential criteria that will be used to evaluate vendors. By identifying these criteria, your company can gain a better understanding of each respondent’s potential and offerings, resulting in more informed decision-making.

Here are sample criteria for you to consider when evaluating RFIs:

  • compliance with guidelines
  • technical skill
  • level of innovation
  • staff expertise
  • pricing
  • support and maintenance
  • risk management
  • past performance/case studies
  • vendor reputation/references

Choose the ones that fit your software project objectives best.

2: Assign weights

Not all criteria will have the same importance. Vendor location, structure, or willingness to travel may not be as essential to your project as tech skills, data security or staff seniority. 

Once you’ve selected all criteria that are relevant to your project, weigh each criterion based on its centrality to the project’s success. For instance, you may assign 10 points to the most important criterion out of the 10 criteria you’ve established. Or, you may want to group the criteria as “Critical”, “Important” and “Somewhat important”, in which case the critical criteria will have a score of 3, and those somewhat important will have a score of 1. 

3: Define your RFI scoring scale

A scoring scale is a quantitative method of evaluating and comparing vendor responses. For every criterion you’ve identified, you want to establish a scale for assessing the responses you’ve received. You may use a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 will be assigned to the best response. 

If you’ve gathered a lot of RFIs, you may use the scale that reflects the number of the documents. For instance, for 15 unique RFIs, the best response would be assigned a score of 15, while the poorest – the score of 1. 

4: Develop scoring guidelines

To ensure a uniform assessment, it's crucial to establish measurable, unambiguous criteria for every score on the scale. This involves defining specific, clear, and objective standards for each possible score.

For each score, it's important to provide specific, quantifiable indicators that can be observed and measured. This could include checklists, benchmarks, or examples that clearly differentiate each level of performance or quality. Additionally, training assessors in understanding and applying these criteria uniformly can further enhance the consistency of assessments.

5: Start the vendor evaluation process

Next, you can move on to assessing and comparing the responses received from vendors. Go through all of the information you’ve received and assign a score for every evaluation criterion you’ve identified earlier. 

6: Aggregate points

In this step, determine the points for every criterion by multiplying the weights x the scores assigned. The below table is a good example of how this step looks like.

Source.

7: Rank vendors

In this final step, you want to sum up the points every vendor gathered for all the criteria you’ve aveluated. The vendor with the highest sum will be most likely to meet the needs of your software development project.

Once you have formalized the process in this way, the results may surprise you. It might turn out that smaller, less obvious companies have gathered enough points to proudly compete with well-known software development brands in the next RFP stage.

Good practices for a fair and effective RFI

When writing about best practices for submitting Requests for Information (RFIs) in software development, it's important to strike a balance between providing enough detail to get accurate responses, while also being considerate of the recipient's time and resources. Here are some expanded points on the practices you've listed:

Do not be overly detailed, but do not omit key information either

It's crucial to avoid being overly detailed in an RFI, as excessive information can obscure the main points and lead to confusion. However, omitting key information can result in inadequate or irrelevant responses. The ideal approach is to provide sufficient context and specifics about what you need to know without delving into unnecessary details. This might include outlining the problem or need, specifying any relevant technical requirements or constraints, and clarifying the purpose of the RFI.

Consider the recipient and focus on clarity if your RFI

When drafting an RFI, always consider who will be reading and responding to it. This means using clear, concise language and avoiding jargon or technical terms that might not be universally understood. The aim should be to make the RFI as accessible as possible, ensuring that recipients can easily grasp what is being asked. This might involve structuring the RFI in a logical, easy-to-follow format, using bullet points or numbered lists for clarity, and explicitly stating any questions or information needed.

Give a fair deadline

The deadline for responses to your RFI should be reasonable, taking into account the complexity of the information requested and the recipients' likely workload. A deadline that is too short may result in rushed or incomplete responses, while one that is too long can delay decision-making processes. Provide a timeframe that allows recipients enough time to gather the necessary information, without putting unnecessary pressure on them. It might be appropriate to consult with potential vendors about the deadline, especially if they offer an explanation of why they need a revised deadline. Do not reject such requests by default.

RFI template

There is more than one acceptable RFI questionnaire. Depending on the character of your software project, your vendor criteria may be different from those that are widely applied in the industry. Based on our experience, we have gathered the most common questions to create a universal RFI template.

We hope that this document will help you choose the best vendors for the next round and ensure a smooth procurement process. Good luck.

Introduction
Introduction of your company and purpose of the RFI, presentation of project objectives, market context, etc.

General Vendor Information
Official name, address, contact, etc.

Specific Vendor Information
Company size and structure, area of expertise, services offered, number of teams, languages spoken.

Project Management
Expertise in PM and Agile, resource allocation, quality control, risk management.

Tech Skills
Programming languages, frameworks or industry-specific technologies, key staff training and certifications.

Experience
Past work, case studies, client references.

Security and Compliance
Software and hardware protection, intellectual property protection, compliance with industry standards, etc.

Cost
Cost outline, payment methods accepted, currencies, etc.

Selection Process
Key stages and dates, selection criteria with weights.

Submission Instructions
Deadlines and contact person for questions and submissions, confidentiality statement, other formal requirements (e.g., format).

Other
Company vision, diversity and inclusion policy, carbon neutrality policy, etc.

Appendix
(e.g., non-disclosure agreement template)

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