17 August RFPs: The Devil is in the Details August 17, 2016By Jon Coss - Blog Manager General, procurement process competitive bidding processes, proposals, RFP 0 As a company that works with government clients, we spend a tremendous amount of time and money responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs). We understand that governments use RFPs to ensure competitive bidding processes and to articulate their requirements. However, the process still causes enough angst for prospective bidders that, ironically, it often actually limits competition.We wrote in a previous blog post about the lengthy RFP procurement cycles and their impacts on the final project. Today I’d like to discuss the formats of the RFPs themselves which often cause confusion, leading to large numbers of vendor questions, which in turn leads to delayed timelines and incorrectly submitted bids. I confess that I have never been on the “other side of the table” writing an RFP and I can only imagine how difficult it must be. But I still have one simple suggestion that I wish government agencies would take prior to releasing an RFP.Before releasing an RFP to the vendor community, I suggest that government run an internal “mock” procurement: “release” the bid to a few agency employees and ask them to respond to it. They don’t have to provide actual answers, just an outline so they can make sure they understand what the RFP requires, where responses should go, how the format works, and other structural issues. It’s important that these people had nothing to do with the writing of the RFP document itself because then they’d naturally understand what they intended when they wrote it.Commonly confusing issues we see in RFPs include where to place a Statement of Work (in tables or in text), repeated questions, seemingly mutually exclusive statements or requirements, and “thrown in” requirements that belong in other sections and break up the flow of the response.I think government officials would be amazed at how much confusion and time they could take out of their procurements by performing this simple quality assurance exercise. This would also reduce the number of questions the state would have to respond to and provide more focus on issues of substance rather than administrative or formatting issues. Finally, it would lead to more uniformity of responses allowing governments to evaluate responses for their merit rather than having to search for answers to their requirements. Related Posts Is your organization ready for change? By the time we engage with an agency, they are fully convinced that they need to change something: the way they are detecting fraud, waste, and abuse, or maybe the way they are managing cases. When it comes to change though, we’ve found that the devil truly is in the details.Each of your staff will typically fall into one of the following categories. It’s important to recognize this and to staff your change projects appropriately.Champions: These people embrace the future vision and want to help achieve it. They love new challenges but also expect that they’ll need to find ways around unexpected problems. They vocalize successes and accept changes for the “long haul”. Projects without champions will never meet their potential.Cynics: Unlike champions, these people think that the change, usually any change, is not necessary. They perceive their value in their knowledge of how “things have always worked” and any threat to this is a threat to them. There is no way to change a cynic’s mind and no way to bring them on board. Cynics are never good for a change project. It’s important to recognize them and keep them to the side.Skeptics: Skeptics, which can often be confused for cynics, need proof to get on board with a change effort. They need to be convinced that the change is good for the agency or for them. Skeptics are a vital component to project staffing because the rest of your agency will clearly see when a skeptic has been “converted” to a champion.Followers: This category makes up the majority of staff assigned to most projects. At the beginning of the project, they will contribute and won’t do anything to undermine the effort. As the project progresses, they will move to whichever side is gaining momentum: success or failure. This is why champions and converted skeptics are so important—they generate excitement and commitment from followers.If this all sounds obvious, I challenge you to think back to a change effort that you’ve observed that should have succeeded but managed to fail short of expectations. You may very well find that the reason was that identifying “change readiness” was either done incorrectly or ignored altogether. We’re not advocating expensive, complex, and lengthy change processes. But we are suggesting that you think about this before engaging in any important project or process change. Disturbing Reports of Nursing Home Abuse Last month CNN published a horrifying report on sexual abuse in America’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The report provided details on dozens of assaults, rapes, and other incidents that, quite frankly, were extremely difficult to read. In my opinion, however, this level of detail is probably necessary to shock people into taking action against what CNN rightly labelled “an unchecked epidemic”.The numbers themselves are devastating. Approximately one million senior citizens are currently residing in 15,000 government-regulated long term care facilities. Since 2000, it appears that over 16,000 cases of sexual abuse have been reported, but the number is probably higher because of complex reporting systems and processes. And it’s impossible to determine the number of unreported cases.Between 2013 – 2016, CNN found that 1,000 government-regulated facilities had been cited for mishandling or failing to prevent sexual assaults. 100 of the facilities had been cited numerous times. And despite this, only 226 facilities were fined just $9 million. Only 16 of the facilities were cut off from Medicaid and Medicare!What is equally disturbing to the actual cases of abuse is the blatant disregard of safeguards and even the intentional impeding of investigations. Consider a case here in California where the employer allowed a nurse to continue working for weeks after reports of him kissing and fondling a female resident. This crime, by the way, resulted in only a $27,000 fine.At Pondera, we often say that fraud and abuse is most prevalent at the intersection of large amounts of money and vulnerable populations. This makes nursing homes “ground zero” for abuse because it is here that the escalating costs of long term care combine with dementia and other health issues that can make senior citizens problematic witnesses.Among several recommendations made by CNN was a call for improved reporting systems. We agree that this is an important piece of the solution. It will provide greater transparency and help regulators identify trends and clusters of abuse. But clearly, stricter oversite and enforcement are needed. So too is the type of no-nonsense reporting that CNN did for this report. Ebola Relief Fraud As a country, we have become accustomed to reading stories about fraud in healthcare, financial services, and government programs. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s certainly not new. Now though, news comes from the American Red Cross that $5 million of Ebola relief funds were fraudulently disbursed on overpriced supplies, fake customs bills, and even non-existent aid workers. These scams will be familiar to regular readers of this blog as they are similar to scams run against domestic subsidy programs. But Ebola relief efforts?Between 2014 and 2016, Ebola raged through parts of Africa, claiming over 10,000 lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. In response, the Red Cross collected and distributed over $100 million in aid, while doctors, nurses, and other volunteers risked their lives to save those suffering or at risk from the disease. Into this tragedy, naturally, came the fraudsters who recognized an ideal opportunity given the large amounts of aid money and the necessarily lax controls over disbursements.Now the Red Cross finds itself having to apologize to donors who realize that 5% of their contributions were stolen. While I don’t know all the details about the Red Cross’s financial controls, I can only imagine how difficult a task it was to make sure money was distributed quickly to only well-intentioned people and organizations.If anything, I believe this is one more reason for strong enforcement of criminal fraud after it has been committed. Trying to prevent fraud by adding bureaucracy and controls to the funds distribution process would likely add to delays during an emergency. Rigorous investigations and strong prosecutions, on the other hand, could act as a deterrent to future fraud. If not, at least it would prevent these fraudsters from plying their “trade” during other disasters. What Social Media Tells the World About You A recent Cambridge University study revealed what many of us already know: each time we “like” a Facebook post, we are revealing something about ourselves. The results of the study were pretty jarring though as researchers found that Facebook “knows” their customers quite well with a just a small number of likes:10 likes: as well as a colleague70 likes: as well as a close friend150 likes: as well as your parents300 likes: as well as your spouseThis data can be used to predict gender, sexual orientation, political affiliations, and other important personal details. In fact, Facebook recently came under considerable criticism for research designed to identify psychological states of teenagers that could potentially be used for targeted advertising.Analyzing social media data certainly presents opportunities for good, such as predicting and tracking influenza outbreaks. In many ways, it offers the digital version of predicting future behaviors, replacing anecdotal methods such as that of a friend of mine who claimed he could predict future prison riots by analyzing canteen purchases (inmates would stock up on supplies anticipating a future lockdown).Regardless of how you feel about social media, it’s important to know that each time you press the enter key, you are revealing a little bit more about yourself – even to people you will never meet. This may not be a bad thing… but it is a thing. SaaS Procurement Recommendations This week, my company is responding to an RFP for SaaS fraud detection services. While we are thankful for the opportunity to respond, the RFP and its process also illustrates the need for governments to adjust their procurement processes with the advent of cloud computing. After all, we responded to the RFI for this procurement over two years ago!This means that the current solicitation is at least partly based on product capabilities from early 2014. While this might not be a big problem for traditional IT projects, this is a lifetime in SaaS. In fact, if a SaaS solution offered mostly similar functionality over a two-year period, I’d recommend not selecting that solution. Effective SaaS solutions push new features in days and weeks, not months or years.With this background in mind, I’d like to propose that governments consider the following three modifications to their procurement policies. Some of these changes may require assistance from legislative bodies and funding organizations in addition to procurement professionals.1. Reduce the time between RFI and RFP: This will help governments avoid building their requirements on functionality that has long since been replaced. SaaS functionality is a moving target – it’s supposed to be.2. Smooth out funding over multiple years: Traditional IT projects required large upfront implementation costs followed by lower ongoing support, maintenance, and operations costs (assuming the initial implementation was successful). SaaS solutions spread the cost more evenly over time as the solution continues to improve.3. Make sure your staff is ready when you award: True SaaS solutions can be implemented quickly, often in as few as 120 days. By the time you award a project, you should be ready to discuss security plans, access the required program data, assign staff (not just project staff but system users), and address many other details that could often be delayed in lengthy IT projects. Comment (0) Comments are closed.