Writing and Responding to the CIS Request for Proposal

The Request For Proposal (RFP) is an integral part of the Customer Information System (CIS) implementation process.

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by Fred O. Angel Jr.

The Request For Proposal (RFP) is an integral part of the Customer Information System (CIS) implementation process. But before issuing an RFP, a utility should identify what it intends to accomplish with the new implementation. The utility should define the scope, strategies, and objectives of the CIS project, and it should understand and document current business and technology processes. Decisions should be made identifying project cost and funding, the selection decision-making process, requirements of the new system, and project team membership.

Once these decisions are in place, the utility can focus on writing an RFP that clearly and concisely contains information on the current operating environment; identifies minimum functional requirements of the new system; provides instructions on how to complete the request and structure the response; and lists terms and conditions, procurement forms, pricing requirements, and evaluation criteria.

The RFP for Chesterfield County's Department of Utilities included the following sections: a cover letter, executive summary, solution summary, vendor qualifications and experience, information on general service requirements, CIS implementation expectations, user's conferences, product support and maintenance, upgrade process, technology overview, and additional proposal attachments.

Cover Letter, Executive and Solution Summaries

A responding vendor should submit a cover letter providing a brief description of the firm's proposal in response to the RFP. The letter should state the number of days that the proposal is valid, show the full firm name and mailing address, and be signed by an Authorized Agent, an official who is authorized to contractually bind the firm proposing the solution. The Authorized Agent should identify the firm's primary point of contact and the individual that has the authority to negotiate all aspects of the scope of services and terms, and certify that all information in the proposal is true, accurate, and complete.

The executive summary succinctly summarizes the vendor's entire proposal. It should contain a brief description of the major contents of the proposal, communicate the proposed solution's primary benefits, and include a description of the product(s) and services proposed, covering the main features and benefits in non-technical terms. The executive summary should list and describe each potential subcontractor or partner the vendor plans to utilize.

The solution summary should list and describe the proposed software, the product name and version, market share information related to the proposed software, and a brief history of the proposed product including first releases, major enhancements, application language changes, etc. The functional matrix, which describes all of the functional requirements and information regarding the proposed software, should be included in the summary or as an attachment. The vendor should provide both current and future product plans, describing product research and development plans.

The solution summary should also identify the names and applications of all vendors and third parties participating in the response. It should describe the vendor's approach to solving the utility's issues as identified in the RFP, describe the vendor's unique business value based upon the current software solution, and explain why the vendor's staff believes it can provide the best service to the utility during and after implementation.

Qualifications and Experience

The qualifications and experience section highlights the vendor's CIS experience. It should document the vendor's experience in implementing solutions of a similar nature and magnitude to that being proposed in the RFP. If a subcontractor is proposed for delivering the product or services to be implemented, information about the third party should also be provided.

The proposing vendor should provide a company profile that includes: a brief history of the firm; a copy of the most recently audited financial information; any mergers or acquisitions; the vendor's revenues; a chart that reflects annual sales, annual net income, and the total number of employees at the end of each year for the last five years; and the number of customers with billing accounts similar to the size of the utility. A listing of the vendor's office locations and where the proposed staff members for the implementation are located should also be included. The vendor should describe all third-party partner relationships to be used during the implementation and the proposed sub-contractor should provide similar profile information.

Both the vendor and the third-party integrator should describe their experience with water and wastewater utilities, providing a summary of at least three CIS projects of a similar size as the utility, including responsibilities, resources allocated, and status, scope, and duration of the project. The vendor may provide any additional profile information it feels is pertinent to the utility's understanding of the firm.

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Members of Chesterfield County's CIS implementation team discuss the project.
Click here to enlarge image

A utility should be interested in a long-term relationship with a selected CIS vendor. As such, the vendor should provide information that will support its desire to establish a partnership with the utility. The vendor should describe the designated person who will manage the long-term business relationship with the utility, identify where this person resides in the vendor's organizational structure, identify when and where the designated person becomes involved with the implementation project, and identify how many customers this person manages. The vendor should also describe how often this person will travel to the utility and the costs associated with on-site visits. Lastly, the vendor should explain senior management involvement in the project from the kick-off meeting through the implementation phases to post-go-live support.

General Service Requirements

The vendor should provide a description of the implementation methodology and project plan. For example, a Gantt chart representative of the implementation schedule could be provided as an attachment to the RFP. The utility should identify its expectations for the project timeline, including implementation and on-site, post-go-live support. The vendor should respond that it can meet this timeline or explain in detail how it believes a longer or shorter timeline is more feasible.

The vendor's response should include detailed information on how it will manage the project. It should specify the project management methodology, how the project manager will manage the scope of the project to ensure the project remains on budget, explain the estimated time the project manager and other staff resources will be on-site at the utility, and describe how the firm will maintain reasonable travel expenses. The vendor should explain how it will communicate the project status to the various levels of the utility's management, maintain the agreed upon implementation schedule, track and manage correction of defects, and handle conflict resolution issues.

The vendor should identify how it handles and manages business requirement changes, listing and describing the number of change controls and the cost impact to a utility based on the last two or three implementations it has completed. The utility should ask the vendor how it will assist the utility in preparing for organizational change based upon the vendor's software. The vendor should also describe its risk management philosophy including how it will determine, track, and manage potential project risks. Project tools should also be identified.

The vendor should provide the staffing requirements for the proposed implementation for the utility, the vendor, and integrator (if utilized).

CIS Implementation Expectations

The core implementation services section of the proposal addresses the vendor's implementation methodology, including project initiation, software and hardware installation, requirements and gap analysis, software configuration and testing, technical and functional training, data conversion, configuration fine tuning and preparation for go-live and solution go-live, and post-implementation support. Other implementation and methodology plans may include change management, communication management, existing process documentation, new system processes documentation, end user training material development, custom documentation for modifications and interfaces, clean-up data conversion, and conversion of balance/reading forward.

Descriptions of the major activities of the implementation should be detailed for each phase of the implementation to include: phase description, dependencies and duration, responsible lead personnel, tools utilized to support the phase, quality control process, resources available, and deliverables. A description of the training courses offered to technical staff, users, and administrators of the application should be addressed along with course availability, locations, and costs.

User Conferences

The vendor should provide information on user's conferences, specifying the types of activities, costs, and number and type of utilities attending, along with a copy of the last conference agenda.

Product Support and Maintenance

In this section of the RFP, the vendor should describe the support process that will be utilized after the implementation of the software. The utility should identify its timeframe expectations for performing user acceptance testing, and should provide functional and technical support solutions.

The vendor should describe its maintenance process and associated costs for reporting defects. The classification process for defects and how the vendor prioritizes corrections, timeframes for correcting defects, and contractual commitments should be explained. A description of how defects will be managed and corrected for future versions of the software should also be discussed. Managing corrections for modified code and interfaces and the process for quality assurance for system fixes and specific enhancements should be identified.

The process for requesting enhancements, the most common enhancement requests, utility involvement in selecting enhancements for new releases of the software, and the modifications and enhancements process for new releases should be explained. A description of the product support facilities, staff and hours of operation, online forums, and searchable knowledge bases should be discussed. The process the utility should follow when requesting support services, and whether there is a dedicated support group or individual assigned to the utility who is responsible for product support, should be detailed.

Upgrade Process

The vendor should describe its process for upgrading its software after the initial implementation, identifying resource requirements, timelines for version support, and detailing how minor and major product releases fit into the upgrade support plan. Information on the standard timeframes for conducting a product upgrade, along with upgrade requirements, the length of time a vendor supports back versions of its product, and how much time customers typically have to migrate to new releases, should be included. A cost proposal that identifies configurations, product modifications, and interfaces should be shown, and a cost estimate for an upgrade of the solution after the implementation should be provided. The vendor should summarize its last five upgrades and provide the utility contact for those upgrades.

Technology Overview

The utility should identify technology components that it would like the vendor's application to support. The vendor, in turn, should describe the technology architecture required to support the proposed system, hardware specifications to support the server portion of the solution, the development environment, and the platform combinations to port the application to and be supported.

The vendor should describe its data hierarchy, the application model and its underlying database implementation, the relationship between customers, accounts, and premises, and the data integrity process. A description of the client interfaces and the ability to access, manipulate, and move between user screens should be detailed. Client workstation machine configuration, file installations, browser interface and support, and automation tools should be noted.

The vendor should provide the number of servers required and detailed hardware specifications. A description of how the application servers are utilized by the CIS solution should be featured.

The utility should inquire about the vendor's approach to Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and/or Service Oriented Application (SOA) technology. Business Intelligence technology should be listed, including datamarts, reporting capabilities, data formats, types, and databases. Required or recommended development tools, programming language, and tools to research, correct, or review data to support the proposed solution should be itemized. If applicable, the vendor should describe any portal technology, web services, and business process integration and management it supports as part of its solution.

Operating systems, database platform applications and their versions should be shown. Programming interface capabilities for scripting, payment acceptance, event notification, and other utility software interfaces should be explained. A description of planned new releases of the proposed software, security, operational, and reporting capabilities should be specified. The vendor should document the number of full-time equivalent staff required to support the CIS system based upon its experience with similar-sized customers. The vendor should detail its batch process, including restart and failure operations, printing specifications for billing, and capabilities for electronic archiving, business continuity, and software development.

Additional Attachments

Finally, a vendor should include the following attachments to the proposal: references, functional matrix, cost worksheets, and implementation team resumes. Other documents include financial reports, sample contracts, corporate literature, product plans, and user conference information. Sample reports, a proposed implementation schedule project plan, customer satisfaction statistics and surveys, manuals and documentation, training courses list and outlines, and a signature sheet should also be submitted.

About the Author:

Fred O. Angel, Jr. is the Customer Operations Administrator for Chesterfield County Department of Utilities. He can be reached at (804) 748-1861 or via e-mail at angelf@chesterfield.gov.

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