Definition

RFI (request for information)

Contributor(s): David Essex

An RFI (request for information) is a formal process for gathering information from potential suppliers of a good or service. RFIs are intended to be written by customers and sent to potential suppliers. An RFI is typically the first and most broad series of requests intended to narrow down a list of potential vendor candidates.

RFIs can be very useful in situations where an organization has little knowledge on possible vendors and wants to reduce the time and cost of evaluating vendors.

RFIs are often used in a variety of instances, for example, in making major IT (information technology) purchases. The goal of using an RFI is to gather information on a market in a formal, structured way. The document should identify the requirements an organization has while requesting specific answers to how the vendor will meet them.

To help identify differences among vendors, a good RFI will also focus on requirements that are unique to the inquiring business and on concerns that are less likely to be addressed by every vendor. Recipients are usually asked to submit their responses in a standard format to make comparisons easier.

Areas of use

RFIs can be used in a number of scenarios such as in IT, ad agencies and in construction industries. RFIs can also aid in choosing tools for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and electronic health records (EHRs).

  • In the IT sector, RFIs are typically used to acquire software from vendors. The software will typically be used for a long period of time, so it's important that an organization is sure to select from the right vendor. The RFI should make clear business requirements such as integrations with other software or hardware, use cases or management options.
  • In construction, RFIs may be sent by a contractor to a designer, from the contractor to a client, from a subcontractor to a client, or from a subcontractor to the main contractor. Typically, RFIs in construction will be used before quoting and onward. Here, an RFI should be submitting queries regarding materials, specifications, design drawings, standards or contract information.
  • Add agencies may use RFIs to evaluate advertising agencies. In this case, the RFI will ask for a list of industry-specific clients, areas of conflict and relevant areas the vendor may excel in.
  • An organization that wants to make use of an ERP software may also make use of an RFI. RFIs in this area should specify the criteria regarding what an organization needs in its ERP system. For example, this could be areas surrounding accounting, manufacturing and inventory management, sales management, and human resources (HR) technology. ERP RFIs tend to be more thorough than others.
  • Health industries looking for software surrounding EHRs may also use RFIs. In this case, an organization should ask for information regarding functional, technical and operational requirements.

How to write an RFI template

The way an RFI is written out will depend on the industry it is being written for. However, a basic RFI will be four or five pages and will include the following sections:

  1. An overview
  2. Information requested
  3. Response expectations
  4. Clarification

The overview section should be written to outline an organization's goals and objectives, such as what is being sought for both short- and long-term goals. Basic information should be listed here, such as introductory information about the requestor's organization. By the end of this section, the vendor should know who the organization is and that the document is an RFI.

The second section should cover the information being requested. This section should detail what information is needed from the vendor, including specifications such as delivery timelines and functional requirements. This section should be specific to what introductory information is needed from the vendor but should not go into depth. By the end of this section, a vendor should have enough details to provide a response.

The next section should outline what is expected out of the response. This should detail evaluation criteria, along with guidance on how and when to respond. Both the RFI and the RFI response can be sent electronically, for example, through email. This section should include a format, such as a premade template, that the vendor can use to answer any information requests. This process will make it easier to compare other vendor answers later.

The clarification section should be last and should point out any last-minute details that have yet to be mentioned. This section can include clarifications on what information is not being sought out.

While writing the RFI, the structure should be based on the needs of the sender. One of the main goals of the RFI is to be able to evaluate multiple vendors quickly, which should be kept in mind while formulating the information requests and response templates. This means that clear guidelines for responses should be given -- and given in a specific format or order. In addition, the RFI should be written so it is clear and easy for a vendor to respond. As such, once the RFI is written, an organization should ensure it is clear and concise.

RFI best practices

Before writing an RFI, it is best to keep in mind a set of best practices to follow. Even after writing the RFI, these practices should be kept in mind to ensure clarity. Organizations should:

  • Limit the information request to only what information is needed.
  • Be specific with what information is being requested but avoid in-depth detail.
  • Follow any previously established formats in order to enable more direct comparisons.
  • Limit information requests to resource and capability information. Pricing, for example, is not information required at this stage.
  • Give fair response times. Responding to an RFI will typically take less time than responding to other forms, so a one- to two-week turnaround should be expected.
  • RFIs are used to gather general information. Organizations should stay away from including more specific, in-depth information. RFIs should not signify final purchasing intent.
  • Some RFIs, such as those used in construction, can also include visuals to help the vendor in further understanding what information is being requested.

The RFI response

The RFI response is the response the vendor will give back to an organization after the initial RFI. More than likely, a vendor will be using a response management platform to respond to RFIs. In addition, it is likely that the users of the management platform will have an answer library ready to pull from to make for faster and more accurate responses.

The entire response process may occur online and include uploading scanned documents through email, for example. A response may also be sent through a hard copy.

RFI vs. RFP vs. RFQ

Similar forms to RFIs are requests for proposal (RFPs) and requests for quotation (RFQs). How they all differ is in what situation they are used and what information is included.

An RFP is a more structured document used to gather information from potential vendors. An RFP specifies what the customer is looking for, and it describes each evaluation criterion on which a vendor's proposal will be assessed. RFPs are often used in a bidding process between vendors from a company. An RFP is usually used following an RFI, because it is more specific.

An RFQ is a document that an organization submits to one or more potential suppliers eliciting quotations for a product or service. It is similar to an RFP but is more specific in nature. Typically, an RFQ seeks an itemized list of prices for something that is well-defined and quantifiable, such as hardware.

An RFI is used to request general information and can help determine if a vendor should receive an RFP or RFQ. RFPs should then be used when closer to the idea of making a purchase. If an organization already knows what is needed and only needs a vendor to supply the correct tools, then an RFQ may fit best.

This was last updated in May 2020

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