RFP: does that mean request for proposal or request for problems? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Have you ever spent countless hours exchanging documents and providing clarifications via email for your RFP? Or maybe you’ve spent your days responding to…

The post Decoding Data Center Bidding: Writing and Winning RFPs appeared first on The Data Center Journal.


This article is part two of a five-part series by Stephen Madaffari, Principal of Data Centers Delivered, on the process by which businesses considering modular data center options should properly evaluate, review and implement solutions. (See also part one of this series.)

Building or expanding a data center involves balancing technical requirements with budgetary limitations and logistical considerations. Contracting with the right modular data center supplier makes this tremendous undertaking much easier.

Facility owners should engage a qualified consultant early in the design process so preparations can begin to procure precisely the right data center to meet data-management needs. For companies opting to select their suppliers through a request-for-proposal (RFP) process, writing an RFP that produces a technically sound, cost-efficient proposal is absolutely critical.

Many construction-project failures can be traced back to poorly written RFPs resulting in bids that are too high or too low, have a mismatch of requirements, create project-management problems, or eventually lead to the vendor’s inability to deliver. In some cases, a poorly written RFP can discourage the best vendors from submitting proposals, leaving only subpar suppliers to do the work.

Planning and Preparation

Whether building a data center at a new location or expanding a data center at an existing site, begin by thoroughly assessing all aspects of the project from facility requirements to IT infrastructure to architecture plans. Be complete in the evaluation of anticipated data-management needs and don’t take shortcuts during the planning phase. Careful planning at the beginning of a project will help avoid errors and omissions in your requirements, which could result in increased costs, construction delays, or other unforeseen and unnecessary problems.

Involve all end users in the design and planning process. These individuals will be responsible for operating the data center once it is built and might include the chief information officer, chief technology officer, information technology architect or data manager, depending on your company’s organizational structure. Their insights into day-to-day operations of the data center will be invaluable when compiling detailed requirements and technical specifications.

Also, consider future data-management needs as well as today’s requirements. Data centers are typically refreshed every three to seven years. Long-term IT facility plans and IT application approaches that could affect computing capacity must be factored in to ensure the new infrastructure can support your business for years to come.

Seek out lessons learned and vendor recommendations from colleagues at other companies who recently built data centers with similar technical requirements. This information will provide valuable foresight and information to apply when it comes time to evaluate potential project vendors.

Finally, interview potential vendors. And make every effort to do it face to face. Ask smart questions about the information they need to develop a comprehensive proposal. These meetings will not only help refine and further develop requirements, they will also be very telling about who might be the right team for the job.

Writing the RFP

Writing an RFP should not be rushed. Take your time and get it right. The quality of your RFP directly relates to the quality of proposals you will receive from modular data center suppliers. Keep these tips in mind as you proceed into RFP development:

  • Write with evaluation criteria in mind. When writing the RFP, most of the effort will focus, as it should, on defining and clearly articulating technical requirements; but don’t forget to also define the evaluation criteria. The process for how proposals will be assessed and judged should serve as a basis for organizing and providing direction to potential suppliers. Doing so will result in more accurate responses from suppliers, helping to fully evaluate all options on the table.
  • Be clear about business goals. Share with potential suppliers the business goals you’re looking to achieve through the new data center. Save them the effort of trying to infer or guess what’s really important. Give suppliers the insight needed to respond with a proposal that directly addresses key project objectives and challenges.
  • Be transparent about limitations. It’s common for a construction project to be constrained in some way—budget, land usage, access to power and so on. No matter the limitations, the sooner they are acknowledged, the sooner solutions will be identified. Be fully transparent in the RFP about any limitations that may exist. By doing so, you’ll get better proposals that specifically address those needs and reduce the chance of surprises down the road.
  • Be specific but flexible. As thorough as the discovery phase may have been, potential suppliers have access to other innovations and technology advancements that can potentially add value to the project. For example, numerous options exist for cooling systems. By stating specific requirements, but remaining open to other system recommendations, the vendor will be able to suggest a solution that meets the project’s needs at the best possible price.
  • Focus on function, not design. Wall color, flooring and furniture will not make a data center more functional, but obtaining the correct cooling, electrical power systems and data connections will. When writing an RFP, spend the time ensuring all systems support the functional needs of the data system. Don’t worry about aesthetics.
  • Provide adequate time for response. The goal of any RFP in the modular data center industry is to generate high-quality proposals that meet technical requirements and consider a long-term strategy for the best possible value. Responses designed to achieve that goal are not written overnight. Establish a reasonable response timeline—a minimum of three weeks, for example—to allow potential suppliers the ability to thoughtfully propose a solution designed to address the project’s unique needs.

Getting the Word Out

Even the best-written RFP loses its effectiveness if it fails to reach the right potential bidders.

Review the list of vendors interviewed before writing the RFP. Which of those vendors had the best understanding of the project and overall objectives you’re looking to meet? Which came with high recommendations from other companies? Which have a proven history and provided concrete examples of their experience meeting similar data center construction or expansion needs? The top three to five vendors who effectively addressed these questions are those who should be invited to bid on the project.

Receiving a high quantity of proposals does not mean getting quality proposals. Focus RFP distribution efforts to receive bids from only experienced, technically qualified vendors fully capable of delivering the facility required for the best possible price.

Once responses to the RFP have arrived, the evaluation process begins by meeting with each vendor to review their particular plans and clarify any questions raised from the proposal. In many cases, this will be a second meeting with the potential vendor and will further seal the assessment of the vendors’ competence to do the job.

Every data center construction project is unique, designed to meet exact data management needs. The best results come as the result of writing a solid RFP. This step is invaluable in the effort to further evaluate and select the right partner for the job.

In the next series installment, Madaffari will discuss how to effectively evaluate potential suppliers of your new data center and how to identify red flags and warning signs indicating they may not be right supplier for you.

Leading article image courtesy of Robert Scoble

About the Author

data centerStephen C. Madaffari is a principal with Data Centers Delivered and concurrently serves as a principal for HTS New York, a leading HVAC manufacturer’s representative firm that collaborates with parent company Epsilon Industries. He began his career as a sales engineer with Trane, where he helped develop and build a successful sales and turnkey construction business. Stephen also was a partner in a real-estate development company that sourced, procured and sold development packages to major construction development companies. One of his key milestones was arranging private equity and acquiring financing for and assisting in the sales of about $25 million in private housing. Stephen earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana State University.

The post Modular Data Centers (Part Two): “Right the RFP” appeared first on The Data Center Journal.


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