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Confluent Forms LLC, located in Easthampton MA, is a boutique branding, graphic design, web design, web development, Blogger development, and PHP/MySQL application development firm providing services to customers from the Fortune 100 to local non-profit o

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Our EU Innovation delegation visit to Washington

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:40:00 +0000

In January, I (David) was invited to Washington DC to meet with the UK's Technology Strategy Board and a delegation of EU member states at the British Embassy. The focus of their meeting: striving to improve innovation support in Europe for Small and Medium-sized businesses. In particular they were seeking out best practices in innovation, and regarding us, innovation in procurement. The group included representatives from six European innovation agencies: Enterprise Ireland (Ireland), FFG (Austria), Agentschap (Netherlands), Tekes (Finland), Technology Strategy Board (UK) and VINNOVA (Sweden). You can read the first report here.Why were we invited to meet with this esteemed group from across the pond? It seems that the RFP Database had caught their attention. Our site's ability to harness the collective efforts of over 100,000 registered users to create a dynamic information gathering and information providing portal, within the procurement space, was something they wanted to learn more about. They wanted to know more about how the system operated, what we've learned from it in terms of what has worked and what hasn't worked, and what effects it has had on both the issuers of RFPs found in our system as well as the vendors that download the RFPs. It was a pleasure meeting with such an interesting group and getting a chance to discuss our site with them, but also perhaps have some impact on their own project(s).During the course of the meeting one topic kept coming back: how can government organizations encourage innovation in small and medium sized businesses?The typical way that bureaucrats respond to this question is by simply giving money away through "innovation grants", which can be found through, and totaling approximately $500 billion in annual awards.I think we can do better. I believe that governments of all sizes (federal, state and local) can best encourage innovation by demanding innovation in their purchasing.Government spending in 2010 totaled approximately $5.8 trillion, or ~12x the amount awarded through grants. The vast majority of that money is spent purchasing products and services, primarily with the goal of procuring a solution that will accomplish the task while costing the least. Check the requirement boxes, submit a fixed or hourly rate that is $1 less than your competitor, and you have a race to the bottom of the barrel. There's a great acronym for this: TALP (Technically Acceptable, Lowest Price).The only thing "innovative" about this is figuring out how low you can go with your pricing or how you can outsource more of your work in order to lower your pricing even more. This often doesn't encourage innovation, but instead encourages shipping work overseas, which frequently leads to a lower quality deliverable.In the interest of pitching an idea (and not simply complaining), I've written out the following process; the goals of the process are to a) lessen the amount of paperwork and non-billable time investment in order to continually bid on vague RFPs, b) reduce the barriers for entry (liability insurance, proof of, etc.), c) bring outside experts in to the procurement process in order to encourage innovative solutions.Open Innovation Sourcing modelPercentage of contracts identified or targeted through open voting as "ripe" for innovationAgency defines the problem(s) and goal(s)Agency issues a RFQ, selects 3-5 vendors to become collaborators based on their project pitch and examples of innovative solutions to related problems (a stipend position). At least one vendor must be new to government procurement.Each collaborator is tasked with participation in creative sessions to create an innovation solution to the problem and define the solution. Solutions are peer critiqued with multiple rounds of revisions, then graded by the procurement officer on projected savings (both short and long term), force multiplying affect, and support for small/medium sized businessesBased on the definition, a RFP is released to implement the defined solutionThis sol[...]

RFPdb has opened its archives of old RFPs for free

Tue, 13 Mar 2012 16:10:00 +0000

Confluent Forms LLC, owners of the RFP Database, are proud to announce that we have opened our archive of expired RFPs to the public, without credits or even an account being required.

If you are searching for historical RFPs, or examples of RFPs to use in creating your own RFP, you now have free access to approximately 66,000 Requests for Proposals. Some old RFPs that consisted of a link to the originating source might not work (they could have been removed from their site), but there are tens of thousands that will work that include the original RFP file(s).

Our goal in making this database repository public is to aid in the creation of new Requests for Proposals. RFP authors will now have access to dozens of RFPs that are similar to the RFP they're preparing to issue, can learn about best practices by evaluating other RFPs, and if so inclined, can reach out to the issuers to find out how their RFP process progressed and if there were any updates the original author would now make in retrospect.

It is our hope that by providing this data we will aid in the advancement of Requests for Proposals "Best Practices" and more efficient procurement practices.

Confluent Forms' articles on Requests for Proposals can be found here.

About Confluent Forms LLC: 

Confluent Forms LLC is a boutique branding, graphic design, web design and custom software development firm based in Northampton, MA. Incorporated in January of 2002, Confluent Forms has provided technology consulting, branding, graphic design, web design, PHP and MySQL development, Web 2.0 software development, application development and hosting services to customers from the Fortune 100 to local non-profit organizations, startup businesses and academic institutions.

For More Information: 

David Kutcher
Confluent Forms LLC

Should stipends be provided for a pre-qualified RFP response?

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 16:40:00 +0000

David, as a board member of the Northampton Arts Council, has recently been helping prepare a RFP for a public art project that will replace a mural at the entrance to the downtown.  During the course of developing the RFP a number of suggestions were floated amongst the Committee about how we could create a public call for proposals that would result in a high quality of submissions, but also be fair to the artists that we are tasked with supporting knowing the non-billable time and effort that goes into a quality submission.  We came up with two ways that we believed would accomplish these goals: a two-step submission process and a stipend for the finalists selected for the final, complete proposal.

Two-step submission process
We decided to employ a two-step submission process; the first step would be to complete a short-form proposal submission that was more akin to a "Request for Qualifications" or RFQ. In the first step artists are asked to submit a short proposal that provides the selection committee with an overview of the project's concept, approximate budget, artist's qualifications, timeline, and sketches of the proposed concept.  The selection committee will then review these proposals according to a pre-established scoring criteria and invite the top 3 to 5 submissions to create and submit a comprehensive proposal for the project.

Finalist stipends
The Committee wanted to explore ways of making the process more artist-friendly, and knowing that it is asking a lot from a group that we are both tasked with supporting that is traditionally economically challenged, we investigated ways we could compensate the artists for the time spent preparing a proposal.  We found that, while not exactly customary, it is a common enough practice in public art call for proposals to offer a stipend to pre-qualified submissions. With this in mind finalists will be invited to submit comprehensive proposals to the Committee and will receive the stipend for their comprehensive proposal development.

The Question: Should stipends be provided for a pre-qualified RFP response?
Working with the non-profit Arts Council and offering this stipend had us wondering: should stipends be customary for a pre-qualified RFP response? Is this done in the corporate world?  One of the most common complaints heard from businesses is that they feel cheated by RFPs, that RFPs are a way for an organization to get dozens of companies to provide them with free consulting and spec work at the cost of thousands of dollars of non-billable time per company. After some quick research we found that yes, there are some organizations out there that compensate submitters for their pre-qualified proposals with a stipend, but apparently this was deemed a questionable practice by some.

So what are your thoughts? Should more organizations that issue RFPs be encouraged to run their competitive bidding opportunities this way?

Open, Competitive, Transparent and Strategic

Thu, 19 Nov 2009 18:00:00 +0000

We view government fulfillment as having two priorities: getting the best product for the best price and being as transparent as possible in doing so. All products and services able to be competitively bid should be bid that way, and the ability to submit a bid for a RFP should be open to any business able to fulfill the requirements of the RFP. Too often procurement managers seem to be more concerned with fulfilling the letter of their obligations while neglecting the spirit of their obligations.It's amazing when, after a RFP finds its way onto the RFP Database, an "uninspired" procurement manager gets upset that our site is driving more competitive bids towards the project and that it was "unauthorized". In our view procurement managers should be going out of their way to publicize their projects and welcome new audiences to bid on their projects. These same procurement managers feel that simply posting a link to the project on some hidden corner of their agency's website, and maybe running a 1-day advertisement in the local paper (last page!) fulfills their obligations of transparency and competitiveness. Sometimes they project disappointment when they only receive 2 bids on the project and their higher-ups assume that those are the only companies that were interested in the project. That hardly seems like the competitive process that was probably envisioned, especially if those 2 bids were from companies that were personally notified about the opportunity. We understand that there are rules, established by elected officials in all levels of the bureaucracy, that specify how procurement should operate so as to avoid conflicts of interest and to set the bar for a competitive process. But we think it's fair to say that the bar is set fairly low in many instances, and too often these procurement departments do the bare minimum that is required. As overheard in a recent discussion on the subject, "The procurement directors... are obliged to extract maximum juice from every single tax payers' dollar spent".What this translates into is the need for a proactive procurement policy, one that actively engages and solicits feedback in the interest of getting both the best deal, but also the right final product, and one where the procurement department isn't tasked with running each RFP as if it's a commodity based solely on price. If procurement officers are only used in the capacity of taking the requirements from other departments and putting them into a formal document for publication, is that procurement department truly fulfilling its obligations?For example, if a department puts out a RFP and now has a huge project running on one type of database, and a little while later another department puts out a RFP and now has their project running on a different type of database with their own set of hardware and software, has the procurement department saved the tax payers money or negotiated the best deal? Is it possible that the second project could have made use of the same database and saved the cost of licensing and additional hardware?There is exceptional value and savings to be gained by having an active and engaged procurement process and purchasing officer. Not only will this officer help direct the organization towards a unified purchasing strategy that can potentially avoid the above situation, but in the process negotiate better pricing and purchasing through a detailed process that solicits stronger proposals. Combine this with a disbursement strategy that puts the project opportunity in front of companies, large and small, from all over the country without any artificial barriers, and you've accomplished the open and competitive procurement that is the supposed goal. Open, Competitive, Transparent and Strategic should be the words that procurement departments live by.[...]