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Tips for creating Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new Unified Communications System

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Ok. You are sold on the need for a new Unified Communications/Phone System in your organization. It is time to select the right vendor that suits your organization’s specific need. If you work with a partner or consultancy, you may want to call on them to help you with the Request for Proposal (RFP). You may also request a sample RFP from any of the vendors you’ll be evaluating. 

But let’s say you’ve decided to write the RFP yourself, here is a brief outline on how to go about doing just that.

RFP: From Concept to Paper


Assemble your RFP team. Be sure and include an IT representative, a budget specialist, and any senior executives in charge of departments that will use the technology extensively (sales, telemarketing, etc.). This team should be briefed on the UC/IP telephony project and should understand what new capabilities such a solution will offer so that they are informed enough to give you an extensive “wish list” for features that will make them more productive.

1. Select a project leader. This person should be experienced in networking and IP telephony, if possible, and should be able to answer basic technical questions related to the technology, if not the specific vendor solutions.

2. Assess what you need from the IP telephony solution.

  • Evaluate the current situation, including costs, etc.
  • Identify key goals.
  • Review most common product capabilities and decide on the importance of them.
  • Determine if there will be training required.
  • Estimate the cost of the project.

3. Record your requirements, goals, and recommendations in a tentative plan.

4. Present your plan to the appropriate organizational leaders (executive management, financial department, etc.). Get their input before writing the proposal.

5. Write the proposal. A typical proposal contains:

  • A summary of the proposal.
  • A statement of what you need – the reason you’re looking for a new solution. Include every capability the RFP team has mentioned—be sure and get input from executives, managers, and staff level employees so that every need is met. Do not overlook the obvious and assume that every vendor provides one specific capability (you know the saying, “Do not assume anything”). Conversely, what is missing from the current telephony solution should also be noted.
  • A weighted ranking of all of the capabilities and features should be included. Be specific in the features/capabilities list and avoid “buzz” words that each vendor could define differently. If necessary, describe any word that could be misconstrued, such as “availability,” which vendors often define differently. Again, don’t assume. Include every single capability that you need. The list should be exhaustive. In other words, don’t omit “voice mail boxes for every employee” from the list because you assume all vendors provide them.
  • A description of how the project will be implemented and evaluated.
  • Provide information about your organization and its technology goals.
  • Include a project schedule. Indicate when you want the new IP telephony solution in place. Provide details on how you want to implement: in phases, within three months from the date of selection, etc. Be sure to include how you want each phase to be implemented so that you get as much out of your old equipment as possible and extend the life of existing equipment and handsets.
  • Provide an approximate budget.
  • Conclude the RFP with specific open-ended questions for vendors, such as:
  • What is your approach to training? Where is training held and how long does it take? Will the price of the solution cover travel time and expenses for your staff to attend if it is offsite?
    • Is there a guaranteed response time for support calls? How will your system be updated? Is telephone support all that’s covered in maintenance fees or are other things covered? Is there an option for hourly support? How many support staffers are on call 24 hours a day? Does the solution contract come with a support guarantee?
    • What is your history? How long has your company been in business? How many customers do you have? How many new customers have you signed on in the past year? The past six months? Are there any current merger discussions?
    • What about customer references—to whom can we speak? Beyond happy customers, ask to speak with the most recent customers. A reputable company should be able to give you references from the most recent three-month period.
    • How upgrades handled and what are the typical costs involved? Also, ask what the process is for a customer to make suggestions and specifically ask if they can name some features that were a result of suggestions from users.
    • What kind of “bake-offs” and industry reports mention your company? Ask for references in the form of reputably published reports and articles 

6. Submit the proposal to the vendors you’ve selected in your long list. Your integration partner or consultant, if you have one, can help you with this process, or simply e-mail or fax it to your vendor list.

If you would like a ShoreTel RFP template please email us here.