At IST Discover-E, we have years of experience helping our clients with their eDiscovery needs along with full scale legal support management systems. We are expert in creating and customizing eDiscovery processes that best fit our client’s needs and expectations. Our model is uniquely transparent, easy to understand and effective in aiding our clients get the decision they want for their clients.
Sitting at the nexus of eDiscovery consulting, project management and sales has made me exceptionally familiar with Requests for Proposals (RFPs). IST Discover-E responds to hundreds of them a year from law firms and corporations throughout the US seeking to source for large projects or consolidate their current eDiscovery situation.
With the promise of greater volume, vendor partners will discount or eliminate fees often charged to ad-hoc customers.
Typically, that current situation includes attorneys, paralegals, and clients who have independently selected and retained eDiscovery service providers. Over time, the independent selections resulted in multiple relationships, product/service offerings and cost arrangements that became impossible to sort through from an administrative cost containment perspective. Put simply, a project-based approach to eDiscovery partnership does work for a while and is the most common way for smaller organizations to do business but will become out of control with surprising ease as case loads grow.
When your vendor list starts looking more like a phone book, the obvious next step is to issue an RFP that limits the number of vendor relationships, vets them and controls costs by selecting three Preferred Partners. Sounds simple enough, right?
To kick it off, whether real or hypothetical, you must determine a rough scope of the services required, then develop a timeline for creation and response, while assessing your available budget. Once this is done, you can create the RFP document to send out to vendors asking them to propose a solution (and themselves) as the best fit.
This phase of development - having to write an RFP from scratch - is what derails the efforts of many firms and corporations. Writing an eDiscovery RFP requires collaboration with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in IT administration, IT security, legal counsel and legal operations – you also shouldn’t forget to get early buy-in from risk/compliance personnel. It is a daunting task since you don’t spend all day working on eDiscovery platforms and each of your SMEs probably already put in 60-hour weeks with their own duties.
Rather than wrangling all your SMEs, it may seem preferable to use an RFP template from your archive or borrow one from a helpful colleague across the hall. I don’t begrudge anybody for going this route. It is quite common, but there are good RFPs and bad ones. Good RFPs are clear, detailed, and provide the right kind of information to help vendors effectively demonstrate their solutions and perspectives. When knocking the dust off an old template or borrowing one, you need to be certain that it will solicit the right responses and in a format that is conducive to analysis. Yes, that means you will still need involvement from your SMEs. Otherwise you will realize you have wasted everybody’s time when you start evaluating the responses.
After all, an RFP is the face of your company. Good ones lead to good proposals, good proposals lead to better working relationships, which leads to better project performance and better outcomes. Your RFP will help you sort through the mom-and-pop providers that only specialize in one or two services, legacy providers still hocking old technology and mega companies who offer eDiscovery as just one of a hundred other revenue streams. It is advisable to retain vendors that are well enough established to offer a full complement of services for you to draw upon, but specialization in eDiscovery should also remain a top factor for preferred vendor consideration.
A full complement of eDiscovery services should include:
Your RFP should concisely identify your objective to streamline and simplify current eDiscovery services, while giving vendors the flexibility to illustrate their unique mission and delivery methods. So, what does a good eDiscovery RFP include? What details do vendors need to know to bid accurately? What questions should you ask vendors to assess their fitness and capability?
For the purposes of this article, I will save you from the minutiae of ‘do’s and dont’s.’ Rather, I’ve reviewed the RFPs in my own library of responses, filtered the bad from the good and found that the best ones all have some variation of the following structure in common:
Belive it or not, all these objectives can be met in a relatively brief document - many of the best RFPs I’ve received are five to ten pages. This format allows you to get right to the point, while giving your IT administration, IT security, legal counsel and legal operations teams a framework to address their key areas of emphasis.
To take this a step further and not beleaguer the obvious or ignore providing guidance on finer points, I’ve put together a sample RFP for you to download and review for your convenience. This RFP invites responses for the most up to date and relevant eDiscovery systems and processes on market today (or at least when this article was written) and places them in a format that is easy to respond to AND easy to evaluate. I highly recommend that you take a look as it is guaranteed to save you time and money. Click link below:
Assuming you’ve downloaded my free RFP and found that it is exactly what you are looking for, you will need to consider the vendors that you would like to include in the RFP event. You may want to include incumbent vendors, start from a competitive/marketplace list or narrow a broader field by sending out a preliminary Request for Information (RFI) prior to requesting price responses via an RFP. It is totally up to you, but I advise that you involve a mix of incumbents and new providers via full RFP process to get the best understanding of the market and gain better leverage when it comes to price negotiation.
To reduce the number of no-bids when including incumbent vendors, you should take steps to avoid the perception that an RFP is simply used to justify a decision that has already been made.
Next, send out the RFP, field the clarification questions without bias and get ready to review the responses. A good RFP has already been constructed to aid in the evaluation process so, altough it may take some time to eliminate the vendors that aren’t a good fit, it should not be as arduous a task as it could have been.
You should also have developed a solid process for how you process and leverage the information that you’ve just received. You will need to involve your SME’s once again so they can review their portions of the RFP responses and provide their scores (you will also want to keep clear records of who was invited, how they were scored, and why they were chosen).
Here are some basic steps for RFP evaluation (of course, your specific needs and subject criteria will vary). Remember that when scoring is consistent from bidder-to-bidder and project-to-project, the evaluation process runs smoothly and lessens the number of hours you pour into selecting the proper bidder.
Identify the importance of each section and assign a weight. For example:
Once feedback is received, you are ready to make some decisions! Your goal at this phase is to isolate five or six vendors to coordinate face to face meetings or formal proposal presentations. Putting a face to a name and attaching people to brands will go a long way in establishing confidence that you can actually work with this vendor. This is also a good time to further refine your price request - it is perfectly fine to negotiate deliverables and price after RFP submission.
After presentations, you will most likely be ready to name your final three preferred vendors going forward. Once you have made your choices, it is important to provide feedback to both winners and losers. This is a courtesy and, selfishly, I always want to know what I did right and what went wrong when responding to RFP’s so I can refine my eDiscovery solutions.
Now, with all that said, there are still other ways to meet the objectives of an RFP without actually doing an RFP. You can conduct and RFI followed by reverse auction or conduct small, sole-source trial projects. The choice is yours. No matter what you choose to do, I would love it if you would give me a call at the outset so I can show you what IST Discover-E has to offer. We could save you a lot of time and money by giving you exactly what you are looking for.