One of the hardest parts of moving to a new SIS is choosing a vendor. Just because someone has a fancy website or glossy product interface doesn’t mean they’re the best partner for your SIS overhaul. So how do you choose who to work with?  

A request for proposal (RFP) can help! Many schools use RFPs to evaluate potential SIS vendors and determine who will be the best fit for the job. Keep reading to learn more about the RFP process and how to decide if you should use one or not. 

What is an RFP 

According to Investopedia, a request for proposal is “a business document that announces a project, describes it, and solicits bids from qualified contractors to complete it.”  

In the context of a SIS, a request for proposal is used to outline key software requirements and identify which vendor offers the best solution for your school’s technology needs. 

Think of it a bit like a job interview. As the school, you’re the employer and the software vendors are your potential job candidates. Instead of conducting a verbal interview, an RFP document allows the candidates to demonstrate how they can fulfill the job requirements with written context and examples. 

Pros and Cons of an RFP 

While an RFP is a helpful tool, not every school chooses to use one. Collingwood School (West Vancouver, British Columbia) employed an RFP while Overlake School (Redmond, WA) and St. David’s School (Raleigh, NC) chose to go without. Consider these pros and cons as you decide if it’s the right evaluation tool for your school. 

An RFP helps you organize your thoughts and clarify your SIS requirements. Before you invite vendors to respond to your RFP, you need to outline the project and clearly articulate your needs, goals, questions, and concerns. Going through this process makes you think through every element up front and ensures that you don’t miss anything in your initial request. 

On the flip side, RFPs are incredibly time-consuming — both for your school and your potential vendors. The level of detail required to both create and respond to an RFP involves input from a range of stakeholders, often spanning several weeks or longer. If you’re working with an accelerated timeline, you might not have the time or bandwidth to use an RFP. 

An RFP helps you make an important decision with confidence. A SIS is arguably the most valuable piece of software at your school, and the decision to switch vendors is not one to take lightly. By carefully vetting each vendor with an RFP, you can get a feel for not only their process and their capabilities, but also their values and whether they’ll be a reliable SIS partner in the long run. You can learn a lot about a company by how they complete your RFP! 

That being said, an RFP is only as helpful as it is thorough. Vendors will only respond to the questions you ask; if your initial RFP is sparse in detail, you won’t get much information in return. Do your due diligence and think through every element of your SIS transition before you ask a vendor to participate — otherwise, you’ll be making your best guess rather than a confident decision about your new SIS.  

Questions to Ask Yourself About an RFP 

How do you know if an RFP is right for your school? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help determine if you need one or can do without. 

  • What’s my timeline? If you need to make a quick decision, an RFP will slow you down. Consider asking each SIS vendor to provide customer references instead — word-of-mouth testimonials are a powerful way to learn from another school’s experience.  
  • How many stakeholders are involved? Your SIS impacts everyone at your school and, understandably, there are many people involved in the decision-making process. With too many stakeholders, an RFP can get unwieldy. Use a responsibility model to determine which stakeholders need to be in the know, and at what level. This can help you decide if an RFP will help or hurt your SIS search. 
  • Does my school already have a process for selecting and approving vendors? A formal RFP is not the only way to evaluate potential vendors. If you have an organized process that works for your school, that’s great! Keep using the systems that you know and save your team some stress from learning a new project management tool.  

Getting Started with an RFP 

If you choose to utilize a request for proposal, the next logical question is “Where do I begin?” 

As a SIS vendor, we’ve replied to hundreds of RFPs here at Veracross. Based on this experience, we’ve created two free RFP templates to help you get started. Best of luck on your search!