What Goes into a Request for Proposal (RFP) for EHS Software?

RFP in theory

Typically, large organizations use Requests for Proposal (RFP) to find the right vendors for various services. It’s a way to gather a lot of information all at once about prospective providers and set a baseline for evaluating their services.

Whether you’re looking for software to help you handle management of change, incidents & near misses, action items, or training, RFPs are tools you can use to get started.

RFP in practice

Many organizations see the RFP as an easy way to get information from all vendors at once, establish a measure of objectivity in the evaluation process, and also compile evidence for later that due diligence was thorough.

Here at Frontline, we’ve seen hundreds of RFPs of all shapes and sizes. When RFPs are done well, they help move the procurement process along in an organized way. More often, they end up becoming a burden to both the client and the vendors, and mires the process in a mountain of undifferentiated paperwork.

 Here are the pitfalls we commonly see with RFPs:

Too much information is as bad as not enough information

Vendors like to jam as much information into their responses as possible, both to talk up their strengths and to mask their weaknesses. Eight pages of questions can easily turn into 40 pages of responses, which ends up being about as useful as highlighting every sentence in a textbook.

RFPs become “check the box” exercises

Many organizations equate more features with better. That’s why RFPs often devolve into massive lists of every conceivable software feature, many of which aren’t needed or aren’t important. This naturally leads to an evaluation process where you look to see which vendor has the largest number of boxes checked, losing sight of which boxes are critical and which are superfluous. Ironically, more bells and whistles can actually lower the usability of software, as more buttons and options cause confusion and raise the risk of user error.

User experience and support matter

 No matter how thorough a feature checklist is, it won’t tell you about two of the most critical elements to selecting EHS software: user experience and support. At Frontline, we spend just as much time fine-tuning our user experience as we do on adding new features.

We never outsource any of our support functions, so our service team becomes an expert in your EHS needs over time. These things ultimately matter a lot more to the people actually using the software than the number of boxes checked.

RFPs won’t answer questions you didn’t know to ask

Most RFPs have a question at the end inviting the respondent to share any additional information they think would be relevant. That tiny afterthought of a section is the only place where you’ll potentially find out about features and services you didn’t know to ask about. Unfortunately, most vendors put little or nothing into that section, since they have no way of guessing what you do or don’t know.

Best Practices for Your Safety Committee

Who should use RFPs and how?

Ideally, RFPs should be used only by organizations under a specific set of circumstances:

  • You have extensive experience with third-party EHS software and know exactly what functionality is out there and what’s important to you.
  • You have the resources (personnel, time, and money) to devote to digging through hundreds of pages of responses and the expertise to tease out what’s actually relevant.
  • You plan to use the RFP as just a supplemental component to a more holistic evaluation that includes the user experience, support services, customer references, etc.

Absent these criteria, most organizations are better served demoing the software, trying it out in a sandbox environment, and speaking with existing customers.

An RFP is not a panacea, but it can still be a useful tool for certain organizations under the right conditions. If you decide that it’s right for your company, you can get started with this free template compiled from many different management of change (MOC) software RFPs we’ve received over the years. Every organization’s needs are different, so we tried to distill the RFP template down to just the critical elements.

Implementing a new management of change or other EHS system is a big undertaking, which starts with finding the right partner. Let us know if we can help.