Maverick concludes its series on request for proposal (RFP) best practises with a post from Maverick Head of EMEA Business Development, Rebecca Moakes, that explores navigating the nuances and complexities of managing a content platform RFP along with tips to achieve a positive and fruitful experience. In our previous posts, RFP’s for Publishing Services, Maverick CEO, Rebecca Rinehart, examined the process of negotiating publishing service agreements and Senior Associate, Stephen Laverick, provided guidance on preparing for - and implementing RFP’s for Production Services.
The content platform is the primary channel of engagement for publishers with their consumers and authors. Within these transactional relationships - as content is created and accessed - is the opportunity to offer different and greater value to retain as many users as possible within the organisation’s digital ecosystem. The platform in this context forms an important part of the wider business and digital strategy, and any solution needs to deliver on those wider needs to achieve success. Given the disruptive environment that publishers are operating in, these business-critical decisions must be firmly located in the longer-term sustainability strategy of the organisation.
In the following blog we will walk you through the key elements to consider when running a successful content platform RFP.
It’s all in the preparation!
It can be tempting to jump straight into searching for a shiny new content platform. However, it is important to pause and reflect on the overarching problems being solved and the needs being addressed. Taking time to consider the key drivers within the broader context of the business mission and digital strategy reduces the risk of investment in technologies that are mismatched and don’t deliver value. For instance, avoiding adoption of a solution that doesn’t integrate with core systems, or one that won’t meet future business KPIs. Once agreement has been reached on the business-critical objectives, and therefore the criteria for success, these elements can be taken forward into the business case, and subsequent requirements elucidation phase.
Tip: When working with our clients we encourage consideration of red lines and areas of compromise at this stage rather than pushing downstream as this will help focus the subsequent phases and reduce risk of over engineering.
The team will need to drive the project forward and will be responsible for getting buy-in from across the various stakeholder groups. Size and makeup of the team will vary depending upon internal constraints, but where possible we recommend a cross-functional team with representatives from each relevant stakeholder group. In our experience, this construct has several benefits, including, early engagement and buy-in from stakeholders, 360-degree view of needs and requirements, and the evolution of a feedback loop between project team and stakeholder groups.
Members of the project team should be able to make key decisions in accordance with their level of sign off, with a clear governance structure to support executive level decision making where required. If your teams are siloed and / or lack empowerment to make decisions that progress the RFP process, then this can lead to inefficiencies and lost time.
Tip: Utilise an organisation and management method (e.g. RACI) for agreeing roles and responsibilities up front and agree ownership of each task or component area.
Market research and requirements gathering
We recommend investing time and resources to conduct market research and a comprehensive requirement gathering phase. A good understanding of the wider market trends and competitor strategic priorities will provide data to help inform thinking around the functional and non-functional requirements. The outputs from this research can be evaluated as part of the requirements gathering process and refined accordingly.
It makes sense to include the primary user groups in your requirements sessions both internal and external. Having a user centric holistic approach to documenting requirements through a semi-structured process of workshops and / or interviews ensures a full understanding of the “what” and “why” of the new platform without formulating the how. Capturing requirements as user stories enforces this approach of identifying and contextualising the need without imposing the solution.
Once the user stories are finalised, attention can be directed towards prioritising the key requirements to support the goals agreed at the start of the process. This should be straightforward as the project team are working towards the same common aim, hence conflicting priorities should be rare. A “must have requirement” is one that is critical to the successes of the solution, such as displaying full text html or supporting e-commerce.
Tip. We recommend engaging with internal teams to understand current processes and evaluate known internal and external pain points (internal teams who work closely with the legacy platform will be best placed to tell you its strengths and weaknesses).
Paperwork and assessment
Preparing the RFP paperwork is an opportunity to reflect on the overarching goals agreed at the start of the process, factoring in the findings from the various data points to adapt them accordingly. When writing the RFP, ensure clearly stated expectations and desired outcomes, provide the business and strategic context, and define the project parameters and needs to be addressed. Agree on the scoring schema and weighted criteria to reflect business priorities. Given the complexity of platform RFPs, we would also recommend applying priority ranking to establish points of compromise and red lines.
Applying a blend of open- and close-ended questions, as appropriate, will provide breadth and depth to the information extracted. With close-ended questions being the dominant format due to the ease of evaluation and scoring. We advise that any open-ended questions are posed with SMART targets in mind for ease of analysis and comparative fairness. When generating the requirements log be very clear about what your user needs for that specific element to work. For instance, creating the below user story will probably evoke a positive response:
As a user I want to be able to run counter reports so that I can provide usage reports to my librarians.
Most vendors will say yes to this requirement. However, if you were to add additional targets such as Counter 5 compliant reports and API support, the answer may vary somewhat. Understand how they will deliver the functional requirement -, is it out of the box or would custom development be required? You need to establish the limitations of the platform as well as its capabilities.
Evaluation and selection
Upon review and analysis of the proposals for best “technical and financial” fit the agreed subset of providers will move forward to a phase of in-depth evaluation. This will include meeting the team, evaluating strategic and cultural alignment, reviewing the development roadmap, and direction of travel, testing industry knowledge and viewing the product. It is vital that the platform provider selected is on board and supportive of your organisation’s goals and possess a technical vision that maps to the ongoing and future needs of your business. Being transparent and open about what that looks like with a potential partner reduces the risk of licensing or developing a platform that will fail to meet critical needs and inhibit business development.
When considering the responses and weighing up your decision, you can use analytical techniques such as a trade-off matrix to help rank the responses. Additional elements to factor when evaluating the solution include the potential wider impact on your organisation – will it be a negative disruptor to your internal workflows and team dynamics or is it a positive disrupter by bringing synergies or enabling positive change across business verticals?
We appreciate that conducting a content platform RFP can be a daunting task, but Maverick has the expertise and experience to help you overcome these challenges and engage in an optimised process to deliver the best partner fit.
Learn more about how Maverick can help with RFP’s for production services here.
By Rebecca Moakes
Head of EMEA Business Development; Senior Associate, Content & Technology
Rebecca Moakes is an accomplished senior publishing professional specialising in product and platform development. With extensive experience of working for and with publishers, she offers a combination of strategic, commercial, and technical insights to deliver measurable business goals.