"Reference Projects", is a new feature added to SupplierSelect which enables vendors and buyers to build a set of reference information free from the restrictions of the standard tendering or RFx process.
Problems with the RFx Process
The traditional RFx cycle involves the buyer requesting a bunch of information from vendors, and providing a deadline by which they must submit the information.This workflow is ideal for projects where the buyer will only request information from the vendor once - such as awarding a specific contract. But in many cases it will be necessary to request the same information repeatedly, e.g.
- A periodic review of vendors, such a due diligence exercise. In many sectors it is necessary to periodically request new information from the vendor for regulatory and compliance purposes.
- A procurement consultant might issue similar RFx to the same group of vendors. Much of the information in these questionnaires is essentially reference data, and does not change on a client by client basis. This information needs to be timely and validated.
- An industry body such as a trade association or a publication might wish to collate a set of data about all industry participants to help buyers to form a short list before entering into a full blow tender.
In such cases, following the traditional RFx workflow results in two problem:
- Duplication. Much of the information requested will be the same each time the RFx is issued, duplicating work for both vendor and supplier. SupplierSelect has always had some tools to help deal with this duplication but the process still generates a significant volume of duplicated data.
- Timeliness. A periodic process (such as an annual review) can only take a snapshot of a given vendor at one time.
To address these issues, and based on detailed feedback from our customers, SupplierSelect has implemented a new feature - "Reference Projects" 1. A questionnaire is created by the evaluator, and vendors are invited to respond as for a normal project.
From here on the workflow diverges. With a reference project, the evaluator is able to view the respondents' answers as soon as they are entered. Scores can be maintained by the evaluator (these are not visible to the Respondent). This process can continue indefinitely.
The option to create a Reference Project is presented on stage 4, "Rules", in SupplierSelect's new Project Wizard. When a Vendor views their list of invitations, a Reference Project's invitation is marked as being a status "Updateable". Vendors can also use Reference Projects to maintain a set of of "Standard Answers" which can then be used for standard bid development.
Reference Projects provide a further area of efficiencies, especially for industry niche consultants. Specialist consultants are often engaged in many RFPs within the same set of vendors, and often using questionnaires that share a good deal of the same questions. Such case involve a great deal of duplication. The vendors receive and must answer the same questions. The consultants must re-examine and re-score what are often the same answers as they have previously analysed. SupplierSelect has always provided a solution to this - answer importing. This is a feature that allows vendors to import their answers from a previous project with one click. Scores to answers which are unchanged since the last project are also imported. This enables both sides of the transaction to cut down on duplication a good deal.
The Problem with Answer Importing
The solution outlined above has been successful and is vendor popular with big sales teams using SupplierSelect to submit tens of thousands of answers per year. However, it has drawbacks for both evaluators and RFx respondents. For evaluators, having scores silently copy across with imported answers can save a lot of time wasted re-analyzing the same information. But it can lead to scoring inaccuracies creeping in. One problem is that there is often a great deal of subjectivity involved in scoring, and different RFxs can reflect different strengths and weakness amongst the vendors. When scores are copied blindly between projects it can be tempted to accept them without sufficient scrutiny. Another issue is that while a score from three years may have been based on a site visit and detailed due diligence this view may no longer be sufficiently timely. Linked to this is the problem that the evaluator has no control over where the respondent chooses to import their answers from. In a big practise there may be dozens of RFPs to choose from. It's unlikely that the quality of analysis and scoring was equally high in all projects, thus the the robustness of the scores can become corroded. For vendors the big problem is that they have to cope with RFPs both from within SupplierSelect and being issued through Word documents or spreadsheets. Additionally, many sales teams use 3rd party proposal management software such as PMAPS (www.proposalsoftware.com). Vendors must then decide where to maintain their canonical set of up to date answers.
Proposal Management with Reference Projects
Both evaluators and respondents can benefit from using Reference Projects to help with answering and scoring RFxs. With Reference Projects an evaluator working on a new RFx can tell SupplierSelect to use "Reference Project A" as the template for the new RFx. SupplierSelect will then perform a full text match against all the answers in both project. Where matches are found, answers can imported. Because the Reference Projects hold the most timely and accurate information (the validity of which having been assessed on and ongoing basis) this ensure that each new engagement is being referenced against the best possible data. Similar benefits accrue to Respondents. By managing their "authorized" set of answers in a Reference Project, a sales team can be confident of where to find the best and most timely answers to their questions. Forthcoming releases of SupplierSelect are going to extend this functionality for respondents: 1) Providing an MS Word plugin for transferring information between SupplierSelect and desktop applications. 2) The ability to create and manage their own Project and thus define a database of precisely the answers they want to save. 1 "Projects", in SupplierSelect, provide a way to group together all information related a specific evaluation exercise such as a tender or RFP. 2 It is also possible to mark a Project as "Public" - this means that vendors can submit information without being explicitly invited by the evaluator.