Pre-qualifying a supplier means to approve them for particular kinds of work and/or to work in specific areas of the enterprise. If you expect to regularly engage external service providers, we advocate you establish a formal pre-qualification process, follow up to establish a baseline including all current and past suppliers of interest, and then add suppliers of interest or as suggested by the business.
The first step in any dialog with a supplier is to insure that a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is in place to protect information which you share with a prospective supplier. Most NDAs are mutual in practice, that is, both client and supplier commit to keep information exchanged confidential. Suppliers often have their own standard NDA—executing their NDA after appropriate review and approval by your Legal department is usually much quicker than asking a supplier to approve yours. You should have your own standard mutual NDA template available for use with niche suppliers or individual contractors.
Requests for Information
We advocate creating standardized templates for suppliers to provide information regarding their qualifications (a self-assessment) for any areas in which you expect to bid out work. This will facilitate comparative scoring and analysis. Spreadsheets or surveys with controlled responses provide data best suitable for comparisons across suppliers.
You should cover the areas pertinent to your prospective engagements. You can also adopt the approach of using a single RFI for all suppliers, allowing them to make items as "not applicable" as appropriate.
- Application software related experience
- Processes and tools
- Industry skills and experience
- Specialty domain skills and experience
- Application software package skills and experience
- Technology skills and experience
- Professional services and implementation consulting services
- Clients and projects
- Internal infrastructure and enabling technology
- Business flexibility
- [Your primary industry] experience and expertise
- Certifications and accreditations
You can then score responses across technical and business domains as relevant to your anticipated needs.
- Strategic skills—(your) business domain
- Strategic skills—technology domain (per your enterprise architecture)
- ERP Solutions
- JAVA/J2EE framework—consider this a stand-in for all development frameworks, include all appropriate to your environment whether or not you use them currently, for example, if you develop mobile apps, that alone can easily encompass a dozen different frameworks
- Quality assurance
- Applications development
- Applications maintenance
- Business process outsourcing—technology-driven, as in technical help desk or web-delivered product customer service
- Infrastructure support and management
- Enabling technology
- Front office
- Back office, generic and packages
- Customer facing applications
A simple scoring system, Fails/Meets/Exceeds scale of 0 to 5 (high), 3 being "meets" requirements, works best. If your supplier RFI contains a sufficiently large sample, you can also forgo "weighting" areas of "special" interest. Our experience is that to materially affect the scoring response, items would need to be weighted so heavily that the rest of the response becomes immaterial.
Supplier Capability Matrix
While RFIs are self-assessments, they still offer value in a side-by side comparison across key capabilities, particularly when filtered down to the skills required for specific engagements. Insure that each question requires a written response as well as a "number" so that each supplier data point is qualified.
Strategic activities requiring specialized skills and expertise often require an RFI template targeting a specific opportunity, for example, sales and marketing.
As part of considering any new supplier relationship, you should engage your Finance organization to check supplier solvency to insure that anyone you choose as a partner today will be a partner tomorrow. (There are contractual mitigations you should include regardless whether you fear your supplier might vaporize!) For example, you can obtain a Dun and Bradstreet ("D&B") report for public companies and work with Finance to research privately held companies. The primary consideration for fitness is the general financial health of a company, not whether it is publicly or privately held.