5. Forget performance at your peril.
It is amazing how many RFPs go out without a mention of performance. You need to identify the factors that are critical to you, such as alarm response rate, video frame rates and report generation times. You should demand a demonstration on either a test bed or an installed customer site for any spec you believe is important to your mission.
One of my personal pet peeves is the manufacturer that lists its product capacity as “unlimited.” At best, this vendor thinks this is a great marketing ploy to make the system look as big as the market leaders; at worst, it is a deliberate attempt to ignore the clear limits all systems have. In either case, you should never accept that kind of answer in a bid process. Instead, ask for a demonstration. If, for example, you need to store six months of video online, an answer like “limited only by disk capacity” ignores that the system may take three days to run a simple search on that video. If the performance is important to you, find a way to have it tested as a part of the bid process.
In our industry, many component specs are difficult or impossible to compare. One example that comes to mind is the low-light
performance of cameras. Just because you spec a .001 Lux level device, does not mean that all of the proposed devices will meet your intent. There are no accepted industry standards for this specification, and there are so many ways to make a camera spec well (lower the signal output, open the lens iris completely, slow the shutter to the point where an object in motion is unrecognizable, etc.) Instead, insist on a shoot off and test to be sure the device gives you the results you want. Of course it’s not just cameras; there are real differences in the image quality of monitors, the speed of computers, the read distance of RFID badges and the reliability of wireless links. If it’s critical, test it out.
6. Support costs are crucial.
Most major systems come with the option of a support contract. Modern electronic products are pretty reliable, often making the case for a maintenance contract a difficult one. The exceptions are any devices with moving parts, such as hard disks, pan/tilt/zoom mechanisms and door hardware. The other major exception is software. While it is very tempting to pass on a software maintenance contract, it is rarely a good idea for two reasons: First, unlike hardware, software is always a “work in process” — some level of bugs are a given, and there is no guarantee that the important ones will surface during a warrantee period. Second, and more important, software is perishable — it has to be kept up to date with the latest changes in operating systems, other software and computers, or it becomes a liability on the network.
With all of this in mind, there is a good case to be made to ensure that your department budget does not take a big maintenance hit some year by locking down those support costs as a part of the contract.
7. Tie down the expansion costs.
As a rule of thumb, any device in the proposed system that could be sourced from multiple vendors in the future will likely decrease in price as time goes on. Not so with the proprietary gear that forms the heart of many systems. If system expansion is likely over the next few years, you should be able to negotiate a price ceiling for those items for a reasonable period of time. Done now, it could save your company a huge sum as the system grows.
8. Ease of use will be an ongoing expense.
One area that often gets little or no attention is the ease of use of the proposed system. Some are so painfully difficult, that you will forever be paying for additional training, mistakes and low productivity. Any proposed system should get more than a quick demo by the salesperson. They know what not to show you. Instead, plan on your spending at least a few days with a working system without a salesman in sight. Another good source of information will be the references you will ask for from the finalist vendors.
9. Experience is key.
There is no need for you to be a guinea pig, or your project be a platform for on-the-job training. Ask for references of both the installer and system manufacturer for similar sized jobs and with similar equipment. Nothing makes a project go smoother than having done it before.
10. Define your requirements in a manner that makes comparison easy.
When all of the bids are back on you desk, the tough work begins. How do you compare them in a way that is fair? There will be a lot of data to go through, and unless you structured the RFP to make that comparison easy, you could have a huge job in front of you. Try to structure the responses — especially the availability of your desired features — into a yes/no/partial or a numeric response. Do not forget to give the vendor the ability to add comments or clarify a response. They will often have a differentiated product that they need to be able to explain to you.
11. You have to define the pricing model.
Every vendor has its own pricing model: different products, options, license fees and service models. If you do not structure the format of the line items you are looking for, the result will be a mess that is impossible to compare. You must define a table that all bidders will fill out in the same way. Ask for as much detail in the pricing as you think is practical. Forcing a breakout of the various devices and labor items not only gives you some flexibility for scope changes, but it also makes any questionable items obvious and open for discussion. Additionally, give the vendors the ability to add extra charges and explanation, if they feel there are missing items.