By Fred Angel
When installing a new Customer Information System (CIS), a water or wastewater utility must create a Request for Proposal (RFP), which identifies for vendors the requirements, specifications, and needs of the utility. The RFP includes information concerning the utility, the current billing system operating environment, the proposed operating environment for the new CIS system, the minimum functional requirements of the new system, instructions on how to complete the RFP and structure the vendor's response, the date the RFP should be returned, term and conditions, procurement forms and requirements, pricing requirements, and evaluation criteria.
Once vendors have responded to and returned the RFP, the CIS team assigned to assess and choose the new CIS system must have an evaluation and selection process. The selection process should be clear and concise so that team members can review each RFP response fairly and equitably and the vendors understand how they will be judged. The selection team should evaluate criteria for vendor experience and references with utilities of similar size and product offerings. The vendor's capability and skill to meet the utility's minimum functional requirements and specifications should be scrutinized. Other evaluation criteria includes the vendor's financial condition and standing in the CIS marketplace, strategic partnerships, use of subcontractors for the implementation, cost, product demonstrations, and site visits. Evaluation criteria should include a process for scoring each response and each member of the selection team should individually evaluate and score each vendor's RFP proposal.
All of the proposals should be reviewed to determine the responses that meet the minimum requirements of the RFP and the team should select only those vendors who meet the minimum requirements for further evaluation. This is called "short-listing." Vendor finalists then meet with the utility's selection team where discussions, interviews, and product demonstrations will enable the utility to complete a comprehensive review of the "short-listed" vendor's capabilities. Scoring sheets should be used to evaluate vendor readiness and responsiveness.
Many utilities select only one finalist for further product review; others will select the top two. Vendor finalist should understand that as negotiations move forward, the vendor may be eliminated from the selection process and replaced by the team's second choice if the utility and selected vendor cannot reach agreement. Reference checks and site visits with the vendor's existing customers, as well as a site visit to the vendor's home office, should occur. These checks and visits should also be evaluated and scored.
The utility should conduct with the vendor finalist a three-to-five-day product demonstration identifying the business and functional requirements, features, and workflow processes of the vendor's CIS software. Discussions should be held on interfaces, modifications, and the vendor's implementation process capabilities based upon the utility's business requirements.
Both parties should clarify and understand expectations regarding implementation objectives and scope, migration from the old to the new system, data conversion requirements, points of contention, service levels minimums, timeframe of deliverables, disaster recovery and business continuity plans, contract terms and conditions, payment schedules, warranties, acceptance, exit strategy, and legal review. The vendor should finalize its pricing for software license agreement, implementation, interfaces, modifications, and post-implementation support and maintenance.
Always remember to keep the executive management team updated, informed, and involved in the selection process. Finally, once you have made your vendor selection you can close the procurement process and move on to the implementation process. Now there is a challenge and opportunity awaiting the selection team!