We know that many institutions use RFPs to analyze their options, and provide a fair and public selection process. But we believe that the RFP approach actually serves neither our nor an institution’s interests. We will explain exactly why below.

However, let us first start by saying that any institution preferring to choose Conclusive Systems has a good way to do that, even if it has to or is about to engage in an RPF. That is because every RFP we have seen includes some clause like this: “[Institution] reserves the right to make whatever decision best serves its interests, regardless of the terms of this RFP and any responses that may be submitted to it.”

Thus, virtually every institution reserves the right to simply ignore its own RFP metrics and choose whatever system it deems best. Thus, no RFP we have seen locks an institution into selecting a vendor only from among those submitting RFP responses.

If you do intend to fish for vendors using an RFP, or if you are required by your state or provincial law to engage in the RFP process, we would encourage you to get your best responses and prices, then talk to us. We’ll demo for you, answer any questions you can dream up, and quote you a dramatically lower price that will leave our competitors just shaking their heads (and that’s without us knowing anything about what they quoted in their RFP responses!). We’ll even put up a free, hosted pilot for you (in the U.S., or a very low-cost, appliance-based pilot in Canada), entering your most complicated major into the system, at no cost to you whatsoever, so that we can prove the superiority of our system and support.

We’ll do that completely apart from any RFP, and you’ll learn much more about us from that than from any possible RFP response.

Now, specifically, here’s why we don’t do RFPs (just click the orange plus symbol to expand each item):

We have seen just about everything from unscrupulous institutions, and it’s not worth our time to play the games.

We’ve been given deadlines for vendor selection that were later outrageously delayed after we had already moved Heaven and Earth to meet the stated deadline.

We’ve been asked to demo and only happened to find out in the nick of time that a competitor was actually on the selection committee! (More on this incident in the next item in our list.)

We’ve gone through the whole process only to never receive results notification of any sort, despite the RFP specifying a notification date. Subsequent calls and emails to the school were fruitless. We’ve gone through the whole process, only to have the RFP entirely abandoned.

We’ve made it well into crafting our response, only to have another vendor selected even before the response deadline. Thus, everybody but that vendor was wasting their time from the outset, and the RFP was a complete sham.

We have responded to RFPs that we then withdrawn and reissued with slightly changed constraints, to which we’ve responded, only to have the RFP pulled and reissued with yet again slightly modified constraints… rinse and repeat until the process “selected” the vendor that the school had in mind from the start.

We’ve flown out to do onsite demos, then engaged in price-negotiation based upon “give us your absolute best price, and we’ll move forward,” only to then find out from “whistleblowers” that we were being used for price-bargaining leverage with another vendor that the school had intended to choose all along.

And the list goes on and on. RFP responses are very time-consuming, travel is not cheap!, and we obviously can’t know going into the process which RFPs are going to be utterly capricious and which are not. Thus we have concluded that in general we have better things to do with our time than to serve what is far too often a capricious and even outright sham process.

Frankly, the “acquisition” process in higher education is a shambles with nothing of the supposed “accountability” that the RFP process was supposed to assure. Too many decision-makers at too many schools are “in the pockets” of vendors in various ways (one CIO was the director of a vendor’s conference scheduling, for example). The lack of basic ethical integrity at too many institutions is epic, and in too many cases, the RFP process accomplishes worse than nothing to make it appear that the process is fair and above board.

It’s sad that the good public institutions cannot in principle differentiate themselves from a sweeping process that has become a hotbed of corruption. But, after almost two decades of seeing the games, we don’t want to play.

In one RFP for a whole community college system, it turned out that one of the community colleges was itself developing a degree audit system. Administrators and developers from that community college were on the selection committee, yet that community college itself was not a “participating vendor” in the RFP!

Nevertheless, through our own channels we found out that this very community college was the de facto “vendor” to beat. By the time we found this out, however, we had already submitted a lengthy RFP response and had been selected as the one vendor that would officially demo for the selection committee.

Before the demo, at the insistence of our attorney, we requested that representatives from that community college not be allowed to be present at the demo nor ask any questions about our system.

Immediately upon that request, the RFP was pulled, and the State’s Director of that community college system unilaterally granted the contract to the “vendor” community college. Not surprisingly, this man was also an administrator at that very community college.

We later found out from other community colleges in that system that the whole thing had been a fishing expedition attempting to extract as much “how to do it” information as possible from degree audit vendors while the college’s development team tried to design their own system. So, we were in effect competing with a “vendor” that was doing nothing but attempting to extract as much information as possible, while we were actually competing against vaporware!

As of 2012 (the last information we have), the degree audit system had not yet gone live at any community college in the system. The RFP process was a giant waste of everybody’s time and no small expense on our part.

And this is not the first time that proprietary information from our RFP responses has “leaked” to competitors. Over the years we have watched the “big guys” take various aspects of our system’s look and feel. They can’t duplicate our amazing back end, the design of the system that makes it so insanely fast and accurate. But they do more and more try to “look” like us, which deceives potential customers into thinking that “degree audit systems are all very much alike.” They are not alike; we are nothing like the “big guys” in any respect. We don’t intend to give anything more away in RFP responses.

Because the “big guys” do business exactly the same way, with the same limitations, shortfalls, and dependencies, RFPs are written with all of the same business-practices presumptions in mind.

For example, all degree audit RFPs are written with questions concerning what third-party software and RDBMS the system needs. And schools prioritize their choice of systems based upon, for example, whether the proposed system integrates nicely with an RDBMS to which the school already has a site license.

But our degree audit system doesn’t depend in any way upon third-party software or external RDBMS software. Our turnkey approach hands a school a completely self-contained SaaS system (hosted or on-site appliance). So, we have been dinged on RFP responses for “not answering all the questions,” when in our actual answers to such questions we explain these points and summarize by saying, “So, the underlying presumptions of this question do not apply to our system.”

The list of such questions goes on and on, so it is clear that many schools expect to do business strictly according to our competitors’ business models, and they don’t even know how to assess our business model.

Schools are used to being, to put it bluntly, gamed by the “big guys,” and we are not in business to play such games! So, the vast majority of RFPs are written with entirely the wrong presumptions in mind, and we simply will not compete “heads up” on a playing field that is already slanted toward business practices and system delivery models that are fundamentally broken and even outright abusive to the very institutions that are trying to navigate the very minefield they are themselves helping keep populated with mines!

Again, if you want to see the vast difference between us and our competitors, just ask us for a pilot, and we’ll have one up for you in a few days. You’ll quickly see why the typical presumptions don’t apply to us, and you’ll see why your school shouldn’t have to deal with the business practices of the “big guys.”

The underlying theme in all of the above points is simply this: The “big guys’” way of doing business makes the RFP and ultimate selection process a minefield for institutions to navigate. RFPs are supposed to “get the facts on paper,” but they really don’t. They can’t. And here is why.

Until you have signed with a vendor and are actually in implementation, you cannot possibly have any idea how or if they can, for example, enter your degree requirements into their system in such a way that it is a comprehensive and accurate representation of your actual degree requirements.

You can ask all the pressing questions you want, you can ask a vendor to describe and show their method of entering degree requirements, but until you actually get into the process of doing it, you will not know the limitations of the system. And by then, too much water is under the bridge, including a whole RFP process (and it is virtually impossible to unring that bell!).

By contrast to the RFP process, you really should insist that the vendor put up a pilot instance for you (at no cost, of course) and enter in the major of your choice. That’s what we are happy to do for you, because we know that we can so quickly do it!

That will be your clearest insight into what doing business with a vendor will be like over the long haul. In that process you will see if the vendor is quickly responsive, if their system really can do for your institution what you need it to do, and what sort of actual investment you will ultimately make by going with each vendor.

And if a vendor is unwilling to do a pilot for you, then you should seriously ask yourself why that is.

RFPs are like “talk.” Talk is cheap.

By contrast, we are happy to do a pilot for you. We can do it quickly and responsively, because those two attributes define Conclusive Systems. And that pilot will contain your actual course offerings as well as some of your toughest majors (you choose which ones). That pilot will have some faux students against which you can run sample audits to see how the system performs and that our representation of your degree requirements is actually completely accurate and maintainable.

Rather than a lame, inaccurate RFP process that doesn’t even really give you the information you most need, a pilot gives you hands-on experience with the company and system where the rubber meets the road.

We have just heard too many horror stories from schools that did the RFP, selected one of the “big guy” vendors, and then spent the next three years (and more) trying to get the system live (after repeated failures), after spending tons of money on hardware, tons of money on human resources… and after all this, they still had a slow, and fundamentally inaccurate system.

That result is the exact opposite of our results. And we will prove it for you with a no-cost pilot that takes virtually no time or effort on your part. RFPs take time and effort! Wouldn’t it be better to put comparable time and effort into evaluating systems that actually purport to be your system? Wouldn’t it be better to see how (what would be) your system is actually going to work for you?

Conclusive Systems is in business entirely to serve your interests, not the interests of shareholders and high-priced suits in corner offices. So, we suggest that you really should adopt a selection method that has a much higher chance than an RFP of showing you what you are really going to get from a system and the vendor.