Issue RFIs & Meet with Vendors
After scanning the marketplace for potential vendors who understand accessibility, you’ll be ready to dig deeper and connect with candidates. An optional, but important, step to assist you during this pre-solicitation phase is to put out a formal Request for Information (RFI).
What is an RFI?
RFIs are preludes to official solicitations such as the Request for Proposals (RFP). RFIs are used to collect written information about the capabilities of various suppliers, and they help inform next steps in your procurement. Government agencies and other large organizations may also do a preliminary Sources Sought request before the RFI to determine the universe of possible vendors and whether they want to set aside the solicitation for small businesses or other designations. For many vendors, RFIs (and sometimes Sources Sought) are a signal that an RFP may be coming, so it is in their best interest to respond to RFIs with thorough, informative background on their capabilities.
Again, RFIs are optional, but they enable you to invite all vendors, including those you came across in your initial research, to respond and show their stuff. As a bonus, you might discover new companies that you had not previously researched. Another benefit of an RFI is that it helps you further define your requirements. For instance, you may lay out some initial requirements that the vendor builds upon with requirements you hadn’t considered. You can then include these in your formal solicitation.
Overall, RFIs are best practices across government and industry. Many large RFPs fail when they don’t use a formal process to help define requirements. See also: Determine Your Solicitation Type
Addressing Accessibility in Your RFI
As you might have guessed, the RFI stage is a fitting time to ask prospective bidders about their accessibility expertise. Be sure to outline your accessibility requirements in your RFI, and ask specific questions about their experience developing, testing, and implementing accessible products. When writing your RFI, the following tools can help you get specific!
- Section508.gov: How to Request Accessibility Information from Vendors and Contractors
- BuyAccessible.gov’s QuickTips tool
Issue Your RFI
How and where to issue your RFI depends on whether you are in the public or private sector. Private industry is typically in a bigger rush to procure a solution and may only give an RFI or solicitation to known suppliers with a reputation in the field. A direct email to vendors is often sufficient. On the other hand, public sector agencies must share their RFIs and solicitations with all interested vendors, so they use public e-procurement websites like eBuy and FedBizOpps. The public sector’s need to spend taxpayer money wisely results in transparency and accountability in procurement. There are rare cases in which government agencies are not required to conduct a full and open bidding process, such as when only one qualified supplier exists, times of urgency, and national security.
After reviewing responses to your RFI, it can be advantageous to meet directly with responding vendors to talk more about their capabilities and view product demonstrations. You can host an industry day event at your facility, engage in conference calls, or tour vendor facilities. Additionally, you can ask your team members, including people with disabilities, to try out the product during a demo to see how it works.
For government buyers, The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) encourage the exchange of information between potential offerors and the government after issuing an RFI. This can help both the potential offeror get clarity about the agency’s needs while allowing the potential offeror to share more about their capabilities.
Here are some things to cover in such meetings:
- Reiterate the technical standards you need to align with (e.g., WCAG 2.0, Section 508)
- Ask the vendor what types of similar products/services they have provided
- Ask for names of references/clients who can attest to their accessibility expertise
- Ask if you can see sample solicitations they have responded to in the past
- Ask for a demonstration of their product’s accessibility features