Process code for software procurement

3b. Vendor interactions

This section will help you:

Answer all vendor questions

Treat all vendors equally, fairly and respectfully


Prevent unfair advantage through transparent information disclosure


Become familiar with the solutions that bidders are offering

Common challenges

You may encounter these frictions as you do the work of vendor interaction. These are challenges the Recommended actions are designed to solve, or that may arise as you take those actions.

Inconsistent messaging

In some cases, city staff answer the same question differently throughout an RFP bidding timeframe. Avoid inconsistency by aligning internally, having a single point of contact for the RFP, and publishing all questions and answers.


Hesitance to engage with vendors

There is a common assumption that interacting with vendors is forbidden or illegal. It isn’t! The ground rules of procurement are fairness, objectivity and transparency. As long as you adhere to those principles when you interact with vendors, there is significant opportunity for creativity.

Recommended actions

1. Communicate actively, in the right channels

Communicating effectively to support a published RFP will build trust with vendors (and the public). It will also increase the quantity and quality of bids by reducing barriers that may preclude new vendors with higher-quality solutions. Finally, communications can help add the nuance bidders need to align with the underlying (and sometimes implicit) goals, values, and objectives that are motivating the project.

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RFPs need active promotion

Public agencies often assume that publishing an RFP on the standard government RFP portal is enough. However, those platforms can be difficult—especially for newer or smaller firms without extensive resources. Actively promoting your RFP outside of government platforms will increase its visibility to more and varied members of your target audiences.

Identify target audience(s)

Who should this RFP reach, based on your market research?


Use the right channels to reach specific audiences

Like incumbent firms, technical experts, startup companies. Consider:
Existing outreach platforms (e.g. the city register, formal government RFP listings)
Unconventional channels (e.g. Twitter, software groups like Code for America, and listings like CityMart or CoProcure)
Host an event or demo day (see later in this section)
Go out to industry meetings or events
Promoting your RFP
Vendors are people too. Actively promoting your RFP means using any and all channels to speak with vendors respectfully and clearly.
Write in plain, clear language (without jargon or assumptions).
Be consistent in your messaging and ways you talk about the project.
Focus on the problem statement and the outcomes you are working toward. By not prescribing a solution or approach, you increase the possibility of innovative solutions.
Go out and actively engage with vendors, academics and community members.
2. Answering questions

A good vendor will often need to ask clarifying questions in order to write a technical bid that satisfies your technical requirements and problem statement.

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Consistency is key

Ensure that all of the information you provide throughout the RFP bidding timeframe is clear. Not only will this simplify the process of evaluating bids, it will also signal to vendors that you are a good partner and that you understand the software development process.


Create a single document with project information

You and your colleagues will draw on this central repository when you are answering all vendor questions. This helps to maintain consistency.


Create a public forum for vendor interactions

Your organization may already have one. Include project-specific channels:
for vendors to submit clarification questions.
for you to post answers. Any information that you provide to one vendor must be publicly available to all vendors.

3. Hosting workshops and demonstrations

If there is a strong market for existing solutions, you should get first hand experience with the vendors and the products they’re selling.

Host a workshop

Invite all potential bidders. During the workshop, walk through the user journeys, play out scenarios, describe the problem statement and KPIs. Put a recording online.


Guidelines for workshops and demonstrations

Schedule two-part meetings: include demos for frontline staff (so they can see what their day to day would be like). Then bring in the technical staff so they can ask questions like security and database architecture.
Never use NDAs

Create or complete the following outputs before moving on to the next step.

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The RFP has been promoted using many and varied channels.

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All vendor questions are answered, and answers are publicly available to all vendors.

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Bids are submitted.