How to Write an RFP for Intelligent Document Processing

Looking for an intelligent document processing solution and can’t choose between vendors? Struggling to get past the marketing speak and down to the nitty gritty? It’s time to issue a request for proposal. I’m going to show you how to write an RFP. The process and questions that’ll help you compare vendors, so you don’t waste your time and money.

Our free RFP template gives you a comprehensive list of questions, that you can personalize, to ask when issuing an RFP to IDP vendors. Take a look!

A comprehensive RFP allows you to choose the right vendor, ensure competitive pricing, and avoid risk. It’s important to understand the process and best practices to avoid wasting time. Or worse, choosing the wrong vendor and ending up with a shipwreck of a solution.

How to write an RFP will share what you should include in your request for proposal. From your company boilerplate to how vendors should submit their responses. There are RFP best practices – be concise! And a free RFP template with suggested questions to ask your chosen intelligent document processing vendors.

If you’re an old hand at writing RFPs – fist bump – you can download the RFP template and skip the post. If you’re a newbie – hug – read on for how to, tips, best practices, and more.

At Rossum, we have years of expertise in developing, implementing, and refining business processes. We’ve seen a ton of RFPs and we’d like to share what we’ve learnt and how to write an RFP. 

What’s an RFP?

A request for proposal – RFP – is a document created by a business looking for a product or service, issued to multiple vendors. A question and answer document to help buyers make unbiased, informed, and confident decisions. 

They have a fixed deadline set by the buying party. Once all the proposals are received, a vendor is chosen that meets the needs and budget of the buying party.

When to issue an RFP

Usually part of a company’s procurement process, an RFP is issued when you’re launching a complex project and looking to spend money on a solution with more technical expertise or a specialized approach for a business requirement that your company can’t achieve on its own. For instance…

  • You’re starting from scratch. Currently, your document processing is done manually but you want to automate.
  • You’re looking to replace an existing solution that you’re unhappy with. You splashed the cash after a vendor sold you on 100% accuracy, only to realize they were bending the truth.
  • You originally invested in an OCR solution which did a great job. But, as your company has grown, you’re receiving more varied documents. Your legacy OCR can’t cope. 

Chances are, the financial outlay is big. An RFP will allow you to make like-for-like comparisons between vendors, as they’ll all be answering the same questions. 

Might be a good time to share my recent post Is OCR Really What You’re Looking For?

What to include in your RFP process

The more information you share with the vendors, the better they’ll meet your needs. And eliminate a potential barrage of questions during the process. Explain your current situation, problem you want to solve, timeline, budget, etc. 

Remember… be clear, specific, precise. Otherwise, you’ll get proposals that are wide of the mark from unqualified vendors. 

Here’s what you should include in your RFP process. Before, in the document, and the follow up…

Define your plan with stakeholders

Issuing an RFP is about addressing a problem in your business. Efficiency. In this instance we’re talking about automating your document processing. Logic dictates that you should collaborate with those that’ll be impacted by the change in operations.

The discovery process defines the challenges they face. The tools that’ll solve this issue. And, what success will look like

For example… 

  • Challenge = manual document processing is slow, error-ridden, and tedious
  • Tools = an AI document processing automation solution
  • Success = document processing automated end to end

Having decided to go the automation route, you must get alignment from all the teams that’ll be impacted by the purchase. Teams to include when writing an RFP for intelligent document processing…

  • Operations
  • Shared services
  • Finance
  • IT
  • Procurement
  • Leadership

Choose your vendors

Before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, you need to draw up a list of vendors you want to issue your request for proposal to.

It requires some homework on your side. Choose them according to your needs. For instance…

  • If you receive multiple formats of documents, having to create a new template each time would be time-consuming and resource heavy. You’re looking for 100% template-free.
  • If your company has seasonal peaks during which the volume of documents received increases, a platform that scales and is flexible should be a key requirement.
  • Documents from all around the world? The platform should be language agnostic, and able to easily deal with all kinds of document and tax formats.

Read customer reviews. Product reviews. Sign up for a free demo or free trial.

Company overview

Share background information about your business with vendors. A boilerplate explaining who you are, why you exist, your mission. When your business was founded and by whom.

  • Elevator pitch
  • Value proposition 
  • Target audience
  • What your platform offers
  • Short and long-term goals

You can keep it relatively short, as any vendor worthy of your money will do their own research.

Statement of work

This is a description of your project. In this instance, the processes you’re looking to automate. Also called a scope of work, your SOW describes why you’re issuing an RFP and your end goal

Be as detailed as necessary to ensure you receive all the information you need to make the right decision. For instance, are you looking to automate your processes end to end? Which documents do you process – invoices, purchase orders, bills of lading, certificates of analysis… all of the above?

If you don’t provide enough details, prospective vendors won’t understand the scope of your request and will submit proposals that you’ll immediately have to trash.

Your statement of work should include…

  • Why you’re issuing an RFP – full automation, part automation
  • Current state of your document processing – 100% manual, unhappy with current automation solution, looking to scale
  • Your timeline for wanting to see results
  • The date when you’ll select the winning vendor

Evaluation and scoring criteria

When you write your request for proposal, include the people who’ll evaluate the RFP responses and how. If you decide to use weighted scoring, be transparent about the score for each question. This will help vendors understand your priorities.

Project scope and budget

There are two schools of thought about including your budget in an RFP. For me, common sense prevails. If you don’t, there’s a chance that all vendor submissions will be way beyond what you’re looking to spend. 

Questions you should answer in your RFP…

  • Do I want fixed or variable pricing, depending on usage?
  • What is my company prepared to pay?
  • Payment terms? Contract renewals and/or extensions of project?
  • SaaS – pay-as you-go – solution, or long-term?
  • Cloud-native or on prem?
  • What/how many data sources do I need to analyze?
  • What are my use cases? How many documents? What documents – invoices, bills of lading, certificate of analysis, etc.?
  • What level of automation do I want?

Timeline of your RFP

You must share a clear project timeline. Dates and times when you want to receive the vendor proposals. Also, include how long your review period will be, and the date and time when you’ll announce your choice.

How the RFP should be submitted

Clear details as to how vendors should submit their proposals…

  • Format – hard copy, Microsoft Word, Google Doc, PDF, etc.
  • Submit by – hand delivery, email, snail mail, shared Google Doc, etc.

RFP best practices

Now you know what to include, let’s quickly look at the best practices so your RFP will gather all the information you need. And, vendors will be able to respond to your RFP comprehensively.

Your RFP may be the first time a vendor has come across your business. Make sure it gives a good impression. Demonstrates your commitment to building honest and valuable partnerships. 

Yes, you’re quizzing the vendor, but it’s not a test to trip them up. If a vendor doesn’t see the value of a response, understand the request, or foresees future issues, you’ll struggle to get your RFP answered.

Clear instructions

If all the submissions follow the same rules, it’s easier to compare like-for-like. 

For the vendor, it’s the difference between a good RFP and a bad RFP. It means that they know that they’re not competing with other vendors over which typeface looks best. 

You think I’m joking? I’ve worked on a lot of RFPs and the Times Roman vs Arial debate is real.

If you want vendors to stick to left aligned text, a specific typeface, a rigid character count, make sure the template you provide is consistent with your requirements.

If you want a comprehensive response to your RFP, you must give a reasonable timeline… 

  • Avoid a submission date that clashes with a public holiday
  • An impossible RFP schedule could put some vendors off
  • Is this how it’ll be in the future if we win the bid?
  • A rush job will result in a substandard response

These things seem obvious, but can easily be ignored or forgotten.

Be upfront with your vendors

Tell them how you’ll evaluate their proposals. How long the selection process will take. Tell them if they’ve won the contract, or if they’ve lost.

If they’ve lost, they deserve to hear why. Be nice. Share constructive feedback.

Respond to questions – yes vs no

Some RFPs are strict about communication. Once the process has started, no more. If you’re approaching a large number of vendors, it makes sense. Utter chaos.

But, if you’ve accidentally contradicted yourself in your RFP, it’s not going to work if you won’t allow vendors to ask questions. If you do answer a vendor’s question, will you share your response with the others? Just to be fair.

I’m not going to tell you what to do. It’s your call. If you’re going to answer questions, do it without compromising the process.

If you want good answers…

Ask vague questions, you’ll get vague answers.

“Is your IDP solution easy to use?”

Good luck with that one. 

“Can my team use your IDP solution with minimal training and how soon will they see results?”

One-word answers are encouraged. No sales speak from the vendor. Fast. Easy to do comparisons with other vendors.

Build an RFP library for the future

All RFPs are not all the same, but there are a lot of sections and questions that will be duplicated. Or need a minor tweak.

Your evaluation process will remain the same. Company overview and terms & conditions too. 

For future RFPs, you can speed up the process with a library of common content, a template, and a checklist of what needs to be included. 

Customize your RFP template

Now you know how to write an RFP, you can download our free RFP template and use it as a guide. Customize it so you’re not asking irrelevant questions. Our template is not designed to give us a head start. It’s to give you something to build on, so rewrite questions in your brand voice. 

Once you receive the proposals from your chosen vendors, evaluate what worked. Any RFP data you collect will only improve your future RFPs

The RFP process evolves over time. Questions become irrelevant. New questions arise. Evaluate and optimize regularly.

Now you know how to write an RFP for IDP, like to see one in action?

Intelligent document processing solution with unmatched accuracy and efficiency.