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About This HRMS Request for Information...

November 16, 2001
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Featured Article
Arequest for information (RFI) is, in theory, an easy thing to create. You ask software vendors questions about their systems. The tricky part is knowing which questions to ask and how to ask them, so that you get the answers you need. The trickier part is getting used to the idea that the stupid questions, the really detail-oriented questions on simple processing, should be part of an RFI as well. And the trickiest part is to get the vendors to respond with good answers.

Here is a tailored RFI that I used with my current employer. It's based on an RFI that I designed for another employer (which I created using all sorts of different sources), and it focuses on the main categories an HRIS/HRMS should address in its application. We grouped the questions under the categories we were most interested in, and tailored those questions to meet our specific needs.

For example, our benefits plan is relatively simple, so our benefits questions are routine. The original template RFI had two pages of benefit questions, because that employer had a massive cafeteria plan, tuition reimbursement and remission, five different retirement plans, in-house COBRA, and retiree benefits. You should be able to use a template RFI like this one, and group the questions under the categories that are most important to you.

You'll note that most of the entries under the categories start with "describe your...." That's intentional. I learned the hard way that if I asked, "Do you do tip crediting?" a number of vendors would answer, "Yes." What I really wanted to ask was how they handled tip crediting -- but I left the door open for them to describe in as much or as little detail as they liked how they handled it. You'll find that the way your vendors answer the questions is a good indicator of how they will handle your account.

But first you have to pick the right vendors. An RFI isn't a tool that you send out to every HRIS/HRMS vendor you can find. You should determine those you want to focus on, no more than 8 to 10 vendors. For help in choosing which vendors to research to determine RFI eligibility, I'd suggest contacting IHRIM (International Association for Human Resource Information Management) or your local IHRIM chapter. IHRIM publishes a list of software vendors that can help you jump-start your search.

Once you have gathered a list of 30 or so vendors that sound interesting, start researching them on the Web. Many have white papers, which give an overview of their products, their technical requirements, and their intended audiences, that will answer some of your questions before you contact them.

After you have narrowed down the list to 8 or 10 possibilities, out goes your RFI! Include a letter of introduction that tells the vendor who you are, what your company does, some history about the company, the future goals for the company, the time frame of the project, and who the competing vendors are. Each vendor gets a clear vision of your company and your time frames, and can also tailor its RFI to address specific issues it sees for your industry. It also can compare itself to the competitors. Give them a reasonable time to respond-but no more than 60 days.

When the responses come in, take a minute to look at each one before diving in and reading it. Did they respond in a professional manner? (One nationally known company responded to my "describe your …" with yes-and-no answers, singly spaced, on a piece of paper that didn't even carry the company logo. The envelope gave them away. Another responded that they "wouldn't waste their time" answering my RFI. Two never responded at all.) While reading, keep asking yourself if they're answering your questions, or spending a lot of time "selling" you on their company. Are their responses what you would expect from someone with whom you want to partner?

Once you have identified the top two or three contenders, it's time to move to the request for proposal. By this point, thanks to your RFI, you know -- in theory -- that these companies are a good match. The next step is for both sides to prove which is the best match.

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