Guide to Writing a Request for Proposal

Getting Effective Solutions...Efficiently

 

A well written RFP will return better solutions and improve your ROI

Introduction to the Fleetistics Requests for Proposal Guide

There is a lot of content online about the GPS tracking and telematics industry, but there is nothing written for companies and government agencies in the beginning stages of writing requests for proposal. With over 16 years of experience responding to RFPs, Fleetistics has the ability to fill that gap with a guide on writing an effective RFP for the GPS Tracking and Fleet Management industry. A well-written request for proposal has potential to generate more responses, clarity in communication, and ultimately result in the best solution for the lowest investment.

We often see unrealistic requirements and broad statements. While this is expected because customers and RFP writers are not always industry experts, an RFP without basic industry knowledge bears more questions than answers. This guide serves as a walk-though for the process of writing an effective RFP.

The most successful requests for a proposal put as much time into the first phase as the third phase. Skipping steps and a general lack of commitment will diminish potential Return on Investment (ROI). Understanding the following three phases ensure you will address the requirements in the RFP. 

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Introducing to Employees

Phase One — Getting Oriented

Understanding the Industry

Terminology and definitions can be the most difficult component to writing an industry-specific RFP. It is also essential to ensure your request generates responses based on your company’s actual needs, rather than the vendor’s perception of your needs and wants. An example of a commonly misunderstood term is “real-time” tracking. There are many devices on the market, with a large variance in the definition of this term. Does this mean 1-second updates or 1-minute updates? Or does it simply mean any technology that enables a user to see vehicle location?

Explaining the scope of information will also clarify your needs. There are many industry terms that offer a wide range of potential solution and options. For example, “engine diagnostics” may be defined as reading fault codes from vehicle computers, but there are many options for levels of data available. While writing an RFP, you should define the exact knowledge your company is trying to acquire by enabling engine diagnostics. Simply requesting engine diagnostics is inadequate because any company offering basic mass air flow or fuel tank level data will have met the requirement you defined. However, some GPS tracking systems, like the GO System, will provide all the available fault codes and status codes instead of just a few basic variables.

If You Don't Know What You Don't Know

If you are not familiar with the technology, you have to get educated. You know the issues you want to resolve, now it’s time to learn about the technology and services to address them. The best way to do this is through online presentations. Schedule presentations from different companies recurring every week. Give the GPS Tracking Committee the chance to learn and continue answering deeper questions to seek understanding. This will establish a foundation of knowledge from which to work. At this point, you are not attempting to choose a vendor, but rather to gather information to define goals and required, preferred, and optional features.

In some scenarios, fleet operators have experience with GPS tracking, telematics and/or engine diagnostics. While this knowledge makes the first phase much easier, you should still get presentations from several potential vendors  because technology is constantly evolving. One new feature can have an exponential impact on your ROI from GPS tracking devices.

Understanding Communication Components

GPS Signal – The GPS satellites orbiting the earth are transmitting radio waves, similar to that of an FM radio station. GPS satellites only transmit; they do not receive. The GPS radio waves are picked up by the receiver on your navigation system, phone, or any GPS antenna. We all share the same satellites, so there very few points of differentiation here. There are various GPS chip sets that might perform better than others but in the vehicle tracking industry, most are about equally good. GPS signals can be blocked by heavy or dense materials. A parking garage, tall building (canyon effect), or a pine tree forest may all block GPS signals. Under 99% of normal conditions GPS signals are readily available. GPS signals are processed by the GPS tracker and then transmitted to a server using a cellular or satellite communication network. Wi-Fi or Passive options are impractical because they are far less popular and come with many issues.

Cellular – GPS data is just data being moved on a carrier network, similar to a picture or email, but much smaller in size. Cellular networks are the most cost-effective method of communication, but there are areas with little or no coverage due to a lack of cell towers. GPS signals that are sent with telematics and engine diagnostics data significantly increase the amount of data being transmitted. The more data, the higher the cost. In high availability scenarios, customers may opt to add a satellite modem failover or go satellite communication only.

Satellite Communication – To communicate globally and in the most remote areas, the GPS data is sent back to communication satellites, instead of cellular towers. These are different than the GPS satellites. The cost of satellite communication is significantly higher, therefore the amount of data transmitted is reduced to make it cost-effective to use satellite communication. Most GPS trackers that use satellite communication only transmit every 5-30 minutes, or by exception. To put in perspective, a call on a cellular network might cost $0.02 per minute on average, while a call on a satellite phone might cost $2.00 per minute.

Data Visualization
  1. Log rate – the rate at which GPS coordinates are captured and presented as a location on the map, generally depicted on a map showing a vehicle route.
  2. Update rate – The rate at which the GPS position information is transmitted to the cellular network. The GPS device might log the data, bundle the data, and then transmit several data points at one time. Therefore, a 1-minute log rate may result in a 2-minute update rate.
  3. Map refresh rate – Data that is transmitted

 

These variables should be different for vehicle tracking, asset tracking, equipment tracking, battery trackers and other variants. The more data, the higher the track resolution, but also the higher the cost. Ask yourself how much resolution you need to accomplish your goals? How much are you willing to pay to get it? What is the communication coverage footprint needed? This forces you to find a balance.

Log Rates
  1. Time-based log rates – Time based logging is just what it sounds like. It plots the GPS systems location every X seconds. Today the standard is every 60 seconds. This type of logging is generally less accurate since distance is most often measure as a straight line between log points. In a straight line the distance accuracy is high, in a urban environment with lots of turns, it is less accurate.
  2. Behavior-based log rates – This term refers to GPS logging based on what the vehicle does. Variables such as acceleration or deceleration, exceptions or changes in direction, result in a log point. This significantly increases the quantity and quality of the data being provided to the end user. When set to high sensitivity you can see every turn made and sometimes multiple log points as a vehicle comes to a complete stop at a light or railroad tracks.

Watch the video on behavior-based logging.

Other Terms to Know
  1. Heartbeat – A heartbeat refers to an update being transmitted when a vehicle or asset is not in motion or running. Most GPS devices have this feature to confirm the location of an asset such as a cargo container that otherwise might not move often. Vehicle tracking units also have this feature to confirm location, identify towing, theft and to reduce the time to acquire the first position log when a vehicle starts moving.
  2.  Engine Protocols – With the introduction of GPS trackers that can also read engine diagnostics, it is important to what your vehicles use and to specify the quantity and type of protocol in your fleet. If you can provide a VIN list most companies that service these types of GPS trackers can lookup the protocol for each vehicle. OBD trackers will likely require an adapter cable if not a totally different GPS device to work on different types of protocols. The GO GPS device uses an adaptor harness so the same device can be used for all protocols.
    1. OBD – On-board diagnostics (OBD) is an automotive term referring to a vehicle’s self-diagnostic and reporting capability. OBD systems give the vehicle owner or repair technician access to the status of the various vehicle subsystems. The amount of diagnostic information available via OBD has varied widely since its introduction in the early 1980s versions of on-board vehicle computers. Early versions of OBD would simply illuminate a malfunction indicator light or “idiot light” if a problem was detected but would not provide any information as to the nature of the problem. Modern OBD implementations use a standardized digital communications port to provide real-time data in addition to a standardized series of diagnostic trouble codes, or DTCs, which allow one to rapidly identify and remedy malfunctions within the vehicle. Wikipedia
    2. J-Bus
      1. J1708 – SAE J1708 is a standard used for serial communications between ECUs on a heavy duty vehicle and also between a computer and the vehicle. Wikipedia
      2. J1939 – J1939 is the vehicle bus recommended practice used for communication and diagnostics among vehicle components. Originating in the car and heavy-duty truck industry in the United States, it is now widely used in other parts of the world. Wikipedia
Pro Tip

Define Success

If you accomplish X, your boss will be happy and your company improves. X may be a level of ROI, a new service, reduction in expenses, etc. The key is a measurable, definable set of KPIs that you can put on a screen and show the team the vision for the project from the start, how to measure it and the end result. This removes the guesswork in the go forward decision making process.

Top 3 – “Must Have” Features

Customers often publish RFP requirements that list pages of features the “must have”. Unfortunately, this often results in a waste of everyone’s time and no decision being made. The best approach is to narrow the project focus to the core reason for making the investment; the 3 things that will provide you the needed ROI to go forward. If a vendor cannot provide any of the top 3 features, they are immediately eliminated. Getting to the top 3 also forces an organization into a realistic planning process and ultimately pulls the project together.

Top 10 – “Like to Have” Features

The next step is list the top 10 feature that would enhance the overall success of the program. The more of these you can add to the top 3, the greater your ROI. List these in the order of importance or created a weighted scale that quantifies the response. After the top 10 go crazy and list everything you would like to get from all departments to see what you get in return.

Phase Two – Writing the Vehicle Tracking RFP and Selection

Planning for Success

Committee

It is important to involve a committee when possible. In medium to large companies this practical but not in owner-operators. Committees should represent many, if not all, areas of a company. GPS tracking data touches many areas other than fleet and getting everyone’s buy in helps improve the ROI. GPS data can benefit – risk, safety, legal, HR, fleet, admin, payroll, delivery, IT, training, communications, marketing and service.

Education

The members of the committee should be well educated on the technology. The best way to do this is work with a consultant who has extensive experience with GPS tracking and telematics technology.

Human Resources

As with any technology, it is only as good as the people using it. Before going further your company needs to decide on the HR policies it is willing to implement and enforce. This is a critical step and commitment. If there are no consequences for tampering or not utilizing the data, the ROI will be significantly being reduced. We have watch companies squander 1.5 million dollar investments in GPS tracking technology because they were not willing to hold their employees accountable. The employees ruined the data to the extent it became unusable and management gave up.

The HR policies need to be in place for the drivers as well as the leadership. This means the managers need to be held accountable for enforcing the policies. Some of the most successful companies wrote their managers up if they didn’t enforce the policies with their drivers. This level of accountability sends a clear message that the company is committed to the technology and the data.

Consultants

Consultants are a challenging variable for both the vendor and the customer. Consultants are often seeking compensation from the customer and the vendor. The consultant will often recommend the vendor that will pay the greatest finders fee without the customer knowing about the transaction. The vendor has no way to know if this is illegal but there is certainly a conflict of interest.

To help address this require the consultant not receive financial gain from 3rd parties involved in this process. This doesn’t mean you cannot hire a consultant from a fleet tracking company but the evaluation needs to be across multiple technologies, not just theirs, and educational in nature. Avoiding specific product demonstrations at this stage ensures a more honest and unbiased educational experience. Working with consultants that have experience with multiple GPS systems will provide a broader understanding of the options.

Technology Experts

There are many technologies integrated with the base GPS tracking solution. Understanding these integrations helps a customer think about what is needed today and what is possible in the future. Visit  to view some of the types of companies that integrate with GPS tracking technology.

Big Mistake

One of the biggest mistakes customers make is taking a feature from this company, one from another and one from yet another and make them all “must have” features or the vendor is disqualified. Unfortunately when this is done the customer loses. Vendors that may be otherwise a great fit are excluded which reduces competition and drives up the prices. Customers have to be very selective in what is listed a “must have” feature. There should be just a few “must have” features and a lot more “like to have” features. These should then be put into a scorecard for evaluation. Go to www.fleetitics.com/rfp  to download an example.

Request for Information

Once you feel you have phase 1 complete issue an RFI. This is like your test run to see what questions you receive and the potential solutions to your issues. The response to an RFI might be low so keep it simple and minimize the legalezz so vendors are likely to respond. Vendors know there is no money tied to an RFI so response rates will be low and less robust. As a vendor, we don’t want to provide a research paper when a customer has not done their basic due diligence.

Timeline

Develop a timeline to start and complete the process. The timeline has to be based on the steps of the project, which then indicates the time, personnel and money needed. Flying by the seat of your pants will lead to a lower ROI and a higher risk of failure.

 

Telematics Evaluation Process

Budget

Based on the anticipated timeline and KPIs, secure a budget. If you get it for free, you can expect a comparable experience. Paying for the evaluation helps ensure you get the attention desired. A great solution evaluation can save you lots of money by not selecting the wrong or by finding the very best ROI. There is a justified expectation that at the end of this process the customer will be making an investment with the selected partner. GPS companies are not doing this work for charity, they are making a large investment in the education, demonstration and training process if done for free. Respecting the partners time and business relationship will improve the level of service and ROI the customer will receive.

Writing the RFP

This step is very important. The less you include and require, the more you will get in return. Where you need to be specific and clear is the requirements section. What are the features you must have? What are the features you would like to have? Include a definition section so there is less ambiguity. What makes sense to your team, might be different to the vehicle tracking company because of different experiences or terminology.

Pick a file format, such as Microsoft Word, that allows information to be added inline. Locking down a document or offering very limited space means you may not get critical information or it becomes very hard to follow along between several documents. With Word, you ask a question and the response is inserted directly below it. Because it is efficient, more fleet management companies are likely to respond. Make it difficult, and your options go down.

Go easy on the legal requirement. When a company says a vendor must defend the company, employees, and officers against all of X, it creates an unreasonable and unbalanced relationship. If a 100 vehicle fleet says the vendor must have $5 million in GL insurance, the cost of the insurance exceeds the profitability of the account or it is simply billed back to the customer. Think about a win-win relationship that provides an acceptable level of risk based on the technology.

Things to consider putting in the RFP

  1. Warranty and failure rate
  2. GPS log rate – resolution
  3. Update rate – frequency of transmission of data
  4. Telematics
  5. Engine diagnostics
  6. ELD – FMCSA
  7. Integration – paid or free  API and SDK
  8. Installation requirements – BIG consideration in initial cost and cost of ownership
  9. Financing and taxes
  10. Users needed
  11. Training available
  12. Support available
  13. Implementation process
  14. Financial stability
  15. Company history and legal issues
  16. Reporting capabilities
  17. Samples of reports, maps and functions

 

These things can be added without making the RFP extremely difficult or time-consuming. List the “must have” features at the top so if they are not met you can stop reading the rest of the response. Vendors will also not spend hours responding only to catch they are not qualified on the last line item.

RFP Distribution

Some fleet operators will send a short survey to potential bidders to screen them before sending them the RFP details. This step is a good idea to be sure you are only inviting those with a higher probability of solving your issues. Don’t worry about price yet, get the right solution providers responding.

If the GPS tracking requirements are fairly basic almost any company in the vehicle tracking space is a potential vendor so a survey is not needed. Do an online search for several keywords and make a list of those to receive the RFP.

Keywords include:

  1. Fleetistics 😉
  2. gps tracking
  3. vehicle tracking
  4. fleet tracking
  5. fleet management
  6. telematics
  7. equipment tracking

After sending the RFP to the vendor list get confirmation of receipt expressing interest. This way you know if enough vendors received it and you can potentially ask some why they were not interested in responding.

Questions and Answers

This is an important part of the process to address confusion or point out things potentially missed in the RFP. Some fleet operators will have two Q&A sessions but most only have one. Document and publish the questions for everyone to review. Again, the goal is to eliminate those not qualified and to improve the quality of the responses.

Phase ThreeSelecting a Fleet Management Partner

Short-List

If you have followed the steps thus far this step will be easy. Many successful fleet operators create a scorecard used by the committee to grade the RFP response. This reduces the ambiguity in the selection process. Weight the requirements so the most important carry a higher score than features you would like to have for convenience. Once done, list the fleet management companies in order of their score and determine how many you want to move forward with into the presentation phase. The number might range from 3 to 7 depending on the size of the fleet and the score of the requirements.

Presentations

Now it is time to schedule presentations. If your fleet is large enough, having the vendor come onsite to discuss and present their fleet management solution is the next step. As a courtesy work to schedule 3 weeks out to save airfare rates under the two-week mark.

At this point, you are working to really get to know the companies, people, and solutions. A minimum of two hours should be allocated for each meeting with breaks in between. Again, a scoring mechanism should be utilized to structure the process. People will get tired and not be able to remember the first presentation although it may be the best GPS solution with the highest ROI.

Don’t be afraid of PowerPoint presentations but ask to see the user interface live at some point. You want to see how the site looks and responds and if the presenter can show you the answer to some of your questions.

Try Before You Buy

The term used in the industry to test a system before buying is called a pilot. There are free pilots and paid pilots. Paid pilots are best when you want a larger sample group for a longer period of time. Pressuring a vendor to do long and large pilots will not give you the results you want. Revenue has to match the investment in any business, just like yours, to get the right effort.

Pilots will last between 1 week and 60 days. 1 weeks is for a smaller fleet with simple requirements. A 60 day pilot is much more involved and is more of a study than a review of the user interface. Fleetistics offers a 60 day process called a SEP or solution evaluation process. Click here to read about our enterprise fleet evaluation process that takes the guesswork out of selecting a fleet management system.

Phase Four – Implementing a GPS Vehicle Tracking System

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Phase Five –  GPS Installation Project Management

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