Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

The Glaring Information Gap in RFPs

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A request for proposal (RFP) for a transportation management system (TMS) typically includes probing questions about providers’ capabilities and the technical specifications of the systems they offer.

But there is one area that tends to escape scrutiny in RFPs, even though it is vital to the success of every TMS project: Strategies for implementation and change management.

Implementing the winning bid inevitably involves managing change, regardless of the scale of the project. A large-scale TMS probably involves multiple users in different parts of the organization dispersed across regions. Small- to mid-size systems are usually less demanding in terms of the scale of the operation. However, they still require a lot of work at the implementation stage to fully integrate the TMS into the shipper’s freight management system.

Yet, in our experience, in most cases there are few, if any, questions pertaining to implementation/change management challenges in RFPs.

For example, implementing a TMS solution requires effective communications between all the participants, yet this requirement tends to be neglected at the RFP stage. Considerations such as how many people will need to be in the loop during the implementation, where they are located both organizationally and geographically, and how project milestones are to be disseminated are extremely important.

In addition, clarifying these aspects helps the project team raise awareness and win broad-based support for the investment and the changes it brings. Employees are much more likely to support the new TMS if they are informed about the rationale behind it, its value, and how it will affect them.

International implementations add another dimension to the communications challenge. Take, for example, a situation where a project is being driven by a United States-based head office, but offices in Europe do not understand its value. Their skepticism deepens when they discover that the benefits to the European operation will not accrue until the tail end of the project. Clarifying the project’s goals at the outset and communicating them across the regions overcomes pitfalls like these.

Another critical challenge that needs to be broached in RFP documents is cultural alignment. Mismatches between cultures—between the provider and the buyer and/or between internal divisions within the shipper’s organization—can cause friction that hampers the implementation process.

Shippers should ask about providers’ approaches to change management from a corporate culture perspective—for instance, what experiences have they had managing change, and how have they handled cultural clashes in the past? How do providers incorporate change management in their project plans? Such questions can reveal much about how providers are set up to deal with these issues and whether they are in alignment with the buyer organization before embarking on an implementation project.

RFPs that delve into questions around cultural compatibility also provide more than a snapshot of the shipper’s operations. The very specific information and data points that usually populate RFPs only paint a partial picture of the shipper’s structure and goals. Moreover, it can take many months for RFP responses to be reviewed and a provider identified, so the snapshot might be out of date by the time an implementation plan is created.

It’s not getting any easier to address challenges like these. TMS technology is growing in complexity—and so is the implementation phase. Other departments, such as IT and customer service, are now more likely to be drawn into these projects, and there are more technical elements to deal with.

This is all the more reason to start off on the right foot with an RFP that covers change management issues. Tackling these questions early on significantly increases the chance of a successful outcome and establishes a solid foundation for the relationship going forward.

Next week we will take a look at the success factors that shippers and TMS providers should be aware of when planning implementations and what questions to ask in an RFP document that reflect these factors.