Once you have gone through the rigorous process of deciding what network upgrade you need based on the infrastructure and educational goals your team agreed on, your next step is the purchasing process.
Before you begin to reach out to potential vendors, make sure your team understands the overall process and any applicable regulations involved. If you are using the FCC’s E-Rate funding for any portion of your network upgrade, make sure you understand the complete terms and conditions of utilizing the funds.
There may also be applicable local or state level regulations and while some of these requirements may be quite obvious to some members of the school district leadership, they may not be obvious to others. Because many of these regulations are predicated on fair competition and other ethical issues, spending a little time in this area will go a long way toward ensuring that your eventual provider of choice is the best one for your district.
Regardless of the size of your district or the complexity of the project, it is always advisable to assign a dedicated procurement person to manage the regulations aspect of the procurement process and ensure that this information is disseminated to your team.
There are a few guidelines you may want to follow in order to build a good working relationship with your potential supplier.
Provide prep time. Give yourself ample time to contact suppliers and inform them of your intent to put out an RFP, this gives them time to start thinking about infrastructure upgrades to their networks if needed.
Control the project. You should absolutely make it a point to listen to your supplier’s expertise, advice, and experience, but be careful to not let them drive the process for you or make critical decisions without first discussing it with your team. They may have some very good suggestions, but make sure that it benefits you, not just them.
Create competition. The more suppliers you invite to the candidate pool, the more options you have when it comes to picking your vendor. You may already have some suppliers in mind either because they are the new player in town with compelling pricing, or because they are the established provider. Sometimes, it may be worth your time to look into non-traditional suppliers - for example, fiber construction firms, to drive competition in the RFP.
The actual content of the RFP can be broken down into one of two categories: information to provide and information to request. Both types of information are essential to receiving the most complete, accurate, and compelling proposals.
Below are some high-quality RFPs that you can refer to that can help you get started structuring your RFP for lit fiber, leased dark fiber, IRU, or self-provisioned. As every district is different it is impossible to build a template that is “one size fits all”, so remember to adapt these to meet your own local needs and regulations.
If you are seeking unbundled Internet access (ISP bandwidth procured separately from the transport circuit), please contact us if you would like template language. Due to the complexity of such a project, specific details of your situation may be needed before template language can be created.
Circuit Procurement Tips
By Marvin Adams, Columbia School District, MS
For example, your RFP should clearly state who you are and what you're looking for, but it also should ask what services they can offer and how will they deliver that service specifically to you. The more relevant information you provide, the more appropriate (and convincing) the responses will be.
You may find it helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the vendor (or another third party) reading it for the first time not knowing exactly what the network looks like today or how your team currently manages it. This will help you anticipate the questions/information the suppliers will want to ask, thereby providing additional clarity and minimizing the back-and-forth communication that often occurs with vague or incomplete RFPs.
Is it clear what the RFP is asking for?
Are the goals of the project clear?
Are the roles of each party clearly defined?
Is it clear what the next steps are in the procurement process?
Your school district overview
Purpose (goals, objectives, drivers)
Current Environment (As-Is) - what your network is like now
Scope of work (overall, service requirements)
Proposal submission guidelines
Administrative and Legal Requirements
Describe start-up requirements or lead time required to begin services
Describe Invoicing, Remittance, Reconciliation process
Describe any additional professional services that may be beneficial to you
Annual sales numbers
This will allow you to avoid having to re-bid under E-rate and is also great practice to ensure that your service provider/solution can grow with your needs.
You should also provide a specific template for vendors to use when submitting their proposal. This gives you more control over what is being submitted to you, which helps with two things:
Limits the amount of unnecessary or irrelevant information which may obscure the overall proposal.
Reduces the likelihood of “boilerplate” or canned responses typical for vendors, especially the larger ones who are responding to RFP’s on a regular basis.
Issue RFP to vendor finalists
Conduct vendor teleconferences to review RFP
Allow vendors to submit questions while you wait for their responses
Vendors submit their responses by set deadline
Give yourself ample time to review and conduct follow-up Q&A, if needed
When it comes time to bring the RFP responses to the evaluation committee (which consists of all stakeholders in the project) you'll want to consider many factors, not just the proposed technical solution and what it costs.
As you read through the suppliers’ responses, it's always a good idea to keep in mind how the proposed solution will meet the three measures of a successful network upgrade:
Does this solution help me achieve my educational goals?
Is this a cost effective way to reach those goals?
Is my current team ready to support and manage this solution?
While cost must be the “highest weighted” evaluation factor, that doesn’t necessarily mean that cost is the determining factor.
While you are going through your decision and evaluation process with your internal stakeholders, be sure to keep all suppliers in the loop during your decision process, regardless of their actual prospects of winning the bid. Doing this will establish a solid and open working relationship with whomever you decide to go with, as well as lay down a foundation for potential working relationships with those that didn’t win incase the winning bidder’s deployment does not go as planned.
Ultimately, when challenges arise, you'll want a vendor that you feel is an extension of your team rather than a provider who just strictly operates within the contractual terms.