RFPs: The Collection Challenge
The primary vehicle for significant government purchases of products and services for public education and the implementation of school improvement grant programs is the RFP – Request for Proposals. A dozen federal agencies, 50 states and several territories, and 15,000 school districts issue RFPs every year. Every jurisdiction, agency and program has its own approach to the process.
In Part I and Part II of this series, we discuss the basics of the RFP and how government agencies issue RFPs public education on the web.
Federal, state and local education agencies award thousands of school improvement grants and contracts every year. Many social service agencies do similar work. A substantial fraction of these opportunities are released on the web, but every agency operates differently. This creates a confusing environment for school improvement providers. Their marketing and sales staffs want a “one-stop shop.” They want to be notified when every relevant RFPs is issued. They want to get this service at a very low price. So far, this has proved impossible. Let me explain why.
Some 350 federal and state departments, agencies or units issue 500-1000 grant and contract RFPs directly relevant to school improvement each year, with an emphasis on grants. And while there is no completely reliable central repository at the federal level or in any state, almost all are issued on the web.
In contrast, there are approximately 15,000 school districts, independent charter schools and state-level regional education service agencies in the United States. These account for most of the purchases of products and services relevant to school improvement providers. These agencies focus on contracts. Although a majority of the 2000 largest school districts that spend most of the money and buy most of the products and services used to educate the lion’s share of America’s public school students do issue RFPs on the web, most of the remaining 13,000 districts do not. Many relevant sales opportunities never even make it to the web.
School districts that decide or are required to issue RFPs on the web have several options. The first is to add one or more pages to the district’s own website for RFP announcements. The second is to list RFPs on a separate website created by state government or a consortium of local governments that is dedicated to publishing procurement opportunities. The third is to outsource the listings to a national or multi-state regional RFP reporting service. This range of choice complicates the work of people responsible for tracking school improvement sales leads.
Despite the chaos described above, most of the people I have met in the business of providing school improvement services cannot understand why it is so hard for the national firms that collect RFPs to meet their needs. The problem seems straightforward – collect everything published on the web, filter it in ways that are relevant to school improvement customers, and distribute the results quickly. This is the age of “big data,” when everything that can be collected online is captured, “sliced and diced,” and made available to users with incredible granularity. What is it about school improvement grants and contracts that makes it so hard for RFP reporting firms to perform these straightforward tasks?
Perhaps the single most important reason why national RFP reporting services do not do a good job of meeting school improvement providers’ needs is the size of their addressable market. The business opportunity is not sufficiently attractive to justify the development of services that the school improvement industry desires at the price school improvement firms are willing to pay.
NEXT: The Size of the School Improvement Market that RFP Reporting Services Are Aiming to Capture
[box]Marc “Dean” Millot, is the Managing Partner for K-12 at Good Harbor Partners and the Publisher of K-12Leads, with expertise in K-12 provider due diligence, business models and strategy, federal education policy, public school reform, and history of the school improvement marketplace. [/box]
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