When your business faces a challenge and needs to find a new solution, where do you start? How do you keep track of potential vendors and suppliers. Not only that, but how do you compare what each of them can offer? Rather than relying on Google searches and manual information gathering, consider starting with an RFI (request for information) from one of these RFI templates.
The request for information process provides useful and comparable information from vendors. As a result, your business is better equipped to understand the available solutions and make informed decisions about how to proceed.
In this blog post, we’ll provide important background information about the RFI process. Additionally, we’ll offer advice about how to write an effective RFI as well as RFI templates and examples. This information will help you quickly create a request for information document that elicits valuable insights.
What is an RFI (request for information)?
An RFI, or request for information, is a document that asks suppliers for general information about the solutions they can provide and makes vendor comparison easier.
When should you issue an RFI?
Using an RFI for a one-time procurement project
An RFI is often the first step in the procurement process. You use this document when you have a challenge you want to overcome. However, you may not know what kind of solutions are available or even if you’re going to make a purchase. In other words, you want to know what options you have before deciding how to move forward.
Once you’ve gathered responses to your RFI, you can use the information you’ve obtained to create a request for proposal (RFP). RFPs are similar to RFIs, except they contain more specific questions and they imply an intent to purchase.
If you’re confused, don’t worry. This blog post covers the differences between RFIs and RFPs, as well as when to issue each. As a bonus, you’ll also learn about requests for quotations (RFQs).
Using an RFI for recurring procurement projects
Because an RFI collects general vendor information, some businesses use RFI templates to create vendor profiles for recurring procurement projects. For example, this strategy is often used by employee benefits consultants who need to find the best possible vendors for their clients. When used this way, the RFI allows procurement teams to quickly search their records and arrive at a shortlist for their RFP quickly. In addition, because the vendor profiles store all the required general information, the RFP can be much shorter and more specific to the current needs of the business.
How to write an RFI
Now that you know what an RFI is and when you should issue one, you’re ready to start crafting your request.
Instead of starting from scratch, we’ve put together a list of RFI templates and examples you can use to get a head-start. Just remember to tailor the final document to meet your unique needs. While these templates and examples may cover situations similar to yours, no two procurement situations are exactly the same.
No matter what RFI template you use, your document should:
- Request information in a way that will be easy to compare
- Provide a clear format for vendor responses
- Ask for general information and avoid being too specific
- Be brief and respectful of the supplier’s time
Remember to be specific, provide context and offer your potential vendors guidance as you browse and customize these RFI templates.
This RFI template covers pretty much any situation. Whether you need information on technology and consultants, or you have a specific project you need help with, you can use this document to communicate your needs to potential providers.
It consists of the following six sections:
- Statement of need — goals and objectives
- Background — context about your organization
- Qualifications — skills and credentials you’re looking for
- Information requested — what you hope to learn
- Selection of an expert — evaluation criteria
- Time for response — the deadline
Demand Metric designed this RFI template to help organizations evaluate advertising agencies. What makes it so valuable is that it asks responders to provide a list of current industry-specific clients, relevant success stories and potential conflicts of interest.
When working with an ad agency, it’s important to know whether they’ve had proven success with organizations like yours. In addition, if they’re creating advertisements for your competition while soliciting your business, you’ll want to know that, too.
If you’re looking for an electronic health record (EHR) solution, this is the perfect template for you.
It covers a wide range of topics including:
- Product questions
- Customer reference questions
- Functional and technical requirements
- Operational requirements
- Transitional requirements and more
In the market for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system? Use this RFI template to get started.
It details the criteria procurement teams should look for in an ERP, including requirements related to:
- Human resources
- Manufacturing management
- Inventory management
- Purchasing management
- Sales management
Just remember, while this template is very thorough, it’s unlikely you can copy and paste the content into a document containing your logo and call it a day. You’ll need to tailor the language and requirements to meet your needs.
This template was designed for banks looking to outsource IT work.
It allows banks to simply search and replace “The Bank” with their name. But, once again, we suggest tailoring the language and requirements to your situation.
In this RFI, NASA seeks to “make decisions regarding development of strategies for placement of Space Shuttle Orbiters and Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) for public display.” As you might expect, they have pretty stringent requirements. Use this document to get a feel for how to write a professional RFI with strict criteria.
Michigan Virtual University (MVU) issued this RFI to identify a replacement learning management system (LMS).
To ensure vendors provide responses they can easily evaluate, MVU set clear expectations and standardized responses by asking vendors to demonstrate their proficiency in 10 scenarios, stating:
“To provide the review team with comparable information, the following scenarios are to be used by each vendor to demonstrate how their product produces the required result. The interest of the team will be directed toward the ease and intuitiveness of the LMS and its interface, as well as the comprehensive set of features.”
The City of Phoenix created this RFI to identify a criminal case management system (CCMS). As early as the executive summary, the RFI contains language, shown below, encouraging vendors that don’t meet their requirements to avoid responding.
“The City seeks information on off-the-shelf solutions and on systems that require minimal customizing. The system must be as fully automated as possible, process at least 100,000 cases annually, and manage criminal cases from initiation to trial, meet all constitutional and statutory requirements, improve customer service, and enhance flexibility, efficiency, and transparency.”
Why is that important? It saves vendors from wasting time responding to an RFI that has no chance of leading to future business. In addition, it prevents the procurement team from wasting time reviewing responses from vendors that should have never replied in the first place.
A note about construction RFIs
RFIs are common in the construction industry. However, within construction the request for information serves two different purposes. When used as a part of the procurement process, a construction RFI functions identically to any other RFI. Just like a construction RFP, a business issues the RFI and a firm responds. On the other hand, an RFI form used during the course of construction seeks additional clarification and guidance about the project.
In construction, it is inevitable that questions will arise. Unfortunately, no amount of planning, specifications or blue prints can account for every real-world eventuality. That’s where the construction RFI comes in. When issues arise and the general contractor cannot proceed, they issue an RFI form to the client to seek clarification on the specific issue.
Other RFx resources
Need more templates? Interested in learning more about the other types of RFx documents? Want to know what the difference is between an RFI, RFQ and RFP?
Naturally, we’ve got you covered. Check out these helpful blog posts:
Remember, issuing RFx documents doesn’t have to be a manual process. RFP management software allows issuers to create dynamic templates, collaborate with vendors, automatically score proposals and more. Certainly RFP technology is transforming the procurement process and empowering better vendor selection.
To learn more, check out this ebook: RFP software guide: How to find an RFP solution that identifies right-fit vendors.
How RFP360 can help
RFP360 streamlines the procurement process by making it easy to create and send RFIs, RFPs, RFQs and more, as well as evaluate vendor responses.
“RFP360 helps us automate and focus on core business. Now, we can categorize, search and profile providers. We love the automated scoring. We’re shortlisting faster, and we’re being a true partner to our vendors. It’s a win-win.” – Mark Rieder, SVP of HR technologies and benefits administration at NFP.
Learn how RFP360 can streamline the procurement process at your organization. Schedule a custom demo.
Originally published March 5, 2019 – Updated June 11, 2020