Last week, Susan (our fictitious school nutrition director) did her research and asked software companies the important questions to decide which one was the best fit for her district. Now that this step is complete there are several routes she can follow. In many districts Susan will be required to submit a dreaded request for proposal (RFP). An RFP essentially serves as a tool to further evaluate the top school nutrition software contenders. However, there are several ways to avoid completing this task and Susan plans to investigate them.

Why you shouldn’t put out an RFP

Like many of us, Susan absolutely hates the process of RFPs. By the time she has successfully completed her software evaluation she usually knows what company is best, thus, she believes the process is a waste of time and expense for everyone involved. Susan knows putting out an RFP involves many daunting tasks. She first must create the document, working with the technology team and purchasing department. Once the RFP is published the respondents take about a month to develop and submit a response. She then has to tabulate their responses and decide on the best. At this point, Susan is STILL not done because she must gain board approval. This entire RFP process can take anywhere between six months to a year—time Susan just does not have. Many school nutrition departments and school district purchasing departments may think that an RFP is required but this is not always the case. Susan knows there are better and more efficient options than this for selecting her school nutrition software company.
School Nutrition RFP

Tips for avoiding an RFP

Susan can first consider buying her software through a co-op. Co-ops offer a variety of vendors, products, and services at a pre-bargained price (for an example of a co-op, check out this one). Co-op members are ensured the best price possible from vendors, usually because the companies did not have to spend money submitting an RFP.  Susan first needs to determine whether her district is already a member of a Co-op. If her district is already a member Susan saves even more time moving forward in the purchasing process because she does not have to create an RFP or gain board approval.
Next, she needs to speak with the software company to find out co-ops in which they participate/are members. Co-ops can be efficient, effective, and economical. If Susan’s district is not a member of this co-op she should still pursue a membership. After exploring co-op membership with the purchasing department, Susan may streamline her processing time down to only a few weeks. This saves a significant amount of time as well as a substantial amount of money.
Susan should also investigate if her state has an agreement with a school nutrition software company. Usually districts receive software free of charge when a state and software company partner. For instance, PrimeroEdge is a proud partner with the state of West Virginia. In a state agreement, districts receive software modules purchased by the state. In addition, Susan would be able to buy other modules using the state contract. State agreements reduce the time and money required to purchase new school nutrition software. Co-ops and state agreements are two of the most common alternatives.  Other options do exist.
Susan may be able to circumvent the RFP process. Some districts do not require board approval when the purchase is less than $25,000. Susan could buy the entire software suite through a subscription. Her price would be below that $25,000 mark. This gives her the product she wants without the hassle of the RFP process.
Moving forward, Susan plans to explore advantages of co-ops and state agreements so that she can save her district time and money by escaping the dreaded RFP. How would you suggest Susan avoid this daunting process? Has your district participated in anything besides a co-op or state agreement?