Intranet Upgrade: Picking the right agency

There comes a time when an intranet manager is faced with an intranet upgrade. Your intranet isn’t fit for purpose and the majority of your time is spent fixing things rather than developing and perfecting areas within. Does the thought of an upgrade excite you? Or make you break out in a fit of cold sweats? No matter what the reaction, an intranet upgrade is a big project that requires the right team internally and externally.

In a series of upcoming Intranetizen posts we will be looking at the different steps in achieving a successful intranet upgrade. This first post details the process behind securing an agency that understands your business and your project’s objectives.

Before we get into the detail of the vendor selection process, it is imperative to add that intranet managers must build a business case that details the vision of the intranet, the objectives, the desired outcomes and a list of requirements that cover both the employees and business (for more on developing a business case, see this piece from Prescient and another from Step Two).

No matter what your selected platform is, there are many intranet agencies out there waiting for your business. It’s not hard to build a comprehensive list, but it is beneficial to do your own research to be prepared. There are more formal ways to invite companies to tender, but in today’s world it can be as simple as posting a question on LinkedIn – in appropriate intranet groups of course! (A list of these groups can be found in our recent post networking for intranet managers.)

The Request for Information (RFI)

You now have a list of agencies who have expressed their interest to bid. This number could range from 5-20 but don’t let the larger numbers daunt you. I invited 16 companies to tender and I am glad I kept my invitation list open to anyone who wanted to participate. In order to whittle the number down, the first stage should be a RFI. The RFI document can vary in length, but the main areas of information are:

  • Introduction: Purpose, Company Background & Overview
  • Key Internal Contacts
  • RFI Process (due dates)
  • RFI Response Criteria
In return, you need to make it clear that you need from them:
  • Their Contact Details
  • Information
  • Experience
  • Client List
  • References
  • Rate card

When the RFI is circulated be clear on the deadlines and any opportunities to clarify information in the RFI. I established one day where I held 45 minute clarification interviews. Not every agency will take part, but it is important to offer this.

Once you have received all the completed RFI submissions, it is time to evaluate the information with your steering team and grade the answers against your criteria.

The Request for Proposal (RFP)

You have now evaluated the agencies and have selected a smaller, more managable number to move to the RFP stage. Once the agencies have been notified it is time to circulate the RFP. Now, this is a more detailed document and takes time to prepare.  Multiple documents will be sent to the agencies in order to help them accurately frame their proposal. The RFP document covers:

  • Introduction: Purpose, Company Background & Overview
  • Instructions to Vendors: Deadlines, Proposal Presentation & Budget of Project
  • Evaluation and Selection: Panel, Criteria, Vendor Financial Information & References
  • General Conditions: No Obligations, Vendor Expenses, No Contract & Conflict of Interest (the legal stuff)
  • Appendix: Scope of Work & Technical Infrastructure

The first four categories explain themself. But the appendix is the real meat of the project.  This is where you can highlight areas from your business case, project requirements and specifications. Be very clear and honest about your internal obstacles.

The pitch and close

This is the part that I really enjoyed and I am sure you will too. All your hard work and preparation will pay off as you sit back and watch the agencies convince you to pick them. I personally wouldn’t schedule any more than 90 minutes per presentation and would skip them detailing their experience. You already know they have the experience; they have made it this far. You want to know if they have that little spark. Therefore, I strongly suggest you set the agenda and focus on two areas: (1) how they would approach your project; and (2) how they approached a similar project with another company.

The case study is key to the pitch. The majority of time should be spent on this as they will need to walk you through the case study – from the beginning to the very end. This is the only way you will really know if they have the ability to do what you want. It also tells you if they have the experience, understand your goals and are able to pick an appropriate case study.

We suggest that you insist that the pitch team is the same as the ultimate delivery team should that agency be successful. The pitch is a great opportunity to see how the team work, the key dynamics and how they interact with you, the client. It also stops professional pitch teams producing the slickest of presentations and then handing over to the B squad to the get the work done.

If there is no clear winner, then it may be best to invite two agencies to a roundtable/scoping exercise. This would be joint effort by both your team and the agency to discuss the issues and refine their proposed budget. Hopefully after their revised submission you will be able to pick an agency that inspires confidence.

Remember, there is no need to overthink or overcomplicate the process. Be very clear about your goals and requirements and repeat them whenever you have the opportunity. The agencies involved will thank you for it.  And you will end up with the right agency for your intranet upgrade.

If you have recently selected an agency did you do something similar? Do you have any other advice to share? Are you an intranet agency — what’s your take on the process. Please share your comments below!

There are 7 comments

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  1. Mike Boogaard

    Is this not too much of a traditional approach for such a flexible, agile and collaborative area?

    Note: before I continue, I feel the need to highlight I am approaching this from an agency perspective.

    The part I have an issue with is the dreaded RFP approach, something I try to avoid at all cost. It is not that I am afraid to loose out to another agency…I believe in ‘may the best agency win’ but I also believe that my knowledge is worth something and therefore dont want to give it out without some kind of commitment.

    I would also argue that there is no way, following the traditional approach, that an agency can ever gain a great enough understanding of the pains the potential client faces to be able to offer a meaningful solution in an RFP response or even a follow up presentation. The end result therefore is that the client inevitably ends up going for the prettiest picture or the more eloquent speaker, without actually knowing if they are equipped to handle their particular issue.

    If I may be so bold I would like to offer an alternative strategy in choosing your agency…Do the research (LinkedIn, as you suggest, is a great starting point). Select 5-10 agencies to come in for a 30 minute introduction meeting where they present case studies of what they have done (and more importantly ‘why’ and the outcome) and whittle these down to 1 or 2 agencies you really identified with and spend time with them to discuss your real needs and pains, so that they can prepare a meaningful solution based on real information. This will also mean that the agency will put in a lot more effort in developing the solution (as the odds of winning the project are much higher), which will result in a much more effective proposal that matches your requirements more accurately.

    End result: client has wasted less time sifting through RFP responses and sitting through presentations, and actually gets a better more effective and bespoke final solution!

    • @danaleeson

      Thanks for taking time to comment and share your views. You are right, there is no single approach to picking the right agency. Just as there is no single approach to developing an intranet. What every intranet manager must remember, is that it must be right for them, their project’s objectives and their organization.

      I have highlighted one approach and hope people can take the information above as guidance to determining their process. For my company we kept to the RFP process because of our ethical fair trading policy, our anti-bribery policy and to be compliant in preparation of our yearly audits.

      I do disagree with you on some points. The slickest presentation does not always win. But it is the connection to the topic at hand that helps the successful agency. For my organization it was the case study. Pure and simple. Our successful agency picked a case study with similar objectives and outcomes to ours and took us through the other company’s successes and failures. It was a very open and honest conversation and was quite fluid.

      The RFP process does not need to be rigid, but it should be fair and equal to all the companies involved. Therefore it is critical to establish a process from the very beginning. It is never a waste of time to sift through responses and is such a learning experience for the organization. It checks the temperature of the project and enables the project team to be clear about the task at hand.

      I personally found this an enjoyable experience and hope my experiences has helped others when faced with an upgrade.

  2. Alex Manchester

    Hi Dana, a really useful post I think. One question, and I appreciate you’re talking here about the RFP process specifically – I wonder if it’s worth clarifying what you mean by ‘agency’? Are we envisioning here a research, strategy, design, implementation agencies? One for each bit, or one for all?

    • @danaleeson

      A great question Alex. Yes, you raise a valid point — there are many different types of agencies. For my project we selected an agency that does all of the items you listed (research, strategy, design and implementation). And to answer your questions specifically, I was referring to that all in one type of agency in my post. We are implementing an Intranet that is such a radical change from our legacy system we had to go with an agency that could deliver it all and well. But that won’t work for everyone and I do not suggest organizations use the all in one agency every single time.

      After my intranet launch, maybe a year down the road, I could see us using an agency that specializes in strategy and governance to takes us to the next level in our roadmap. But no matter if it is one element or many I know I will use aspects of the RFP process to ensure I pick the right partner for any future intranet project.

  3. Martin White

    A good topic for a blog and I’d certainly endorse the comments by Mike Boogaard. I’m wondering why ‘upgrade’ and ‘design’ are regarded as synonyms. There are a lot of agencies out there, but in my experience very few specialise in intranets, and even if they do they tend to work with specific CMS products. I just feel uneasy about a blog post that implies that if the intranet is no longer fit for purpose then a visual design makeover is going to make a difference. My first question would be how the intranet got to that stage. Lack of internal resource, lack of a decent technical platform, inadequate search to complement the IA, lack of vision about the value of the intranet, etc?

    To me the first step is to make sure all the stakeholders understand why the intranet has lost its way, and make sure that a visual redesign offers the right return on investment. Your experience may be different to mine, but letting a design agency play games with the IA on an intranet can be a recipe for disaster.

    I also have some concerns about the advice. You state that the Appendix is the core of the RFP and yet by styling and positioning as an Appendix you are saying that all the company and financial information is more important.

    In my view insisting that the presentation team are also the design/development team is not realistic. If the development team is a good one they will be off on other projects by the time you make a decision. If they are still around then business is poor. To throw a metaphor in here, when you buy a car do you expect the service technician to be part of the sales pitch?

    One of the problems I run into on a regular basis is that the agencies that do undertake intranet projects are often under very tight non-disclosure agreements. This may significatly limit the extent to which they can display the work that they have done, and also take about the process as the information needed to put the redesign in context may be highly sensitive. One of the reasons why there are so few books on intranets is that it is very very difficult to show examples of poor intranets! Poor web sites are easy to cite as they are in the public domain. Reports like the Intranet Innovations Awards of the NNg Design Awards tend to skip over the previous versions of the intranet for all sorts of good reasons.

    My final comment is about the use of the word ‘agency’. In the UK there are many excellent intranet consulting businesses who have the skills to work on the strategy/business case/technology issues and then bring in an agency to undertake visual design work as required, perhaps taking on a project management role as well. When I get an RFI or and RFP out of the blue I usually bin it. I know that the decision will be taken on price and not on capability. I note that even in your RFI you ask for a rate card! When a prospective client contacts me I always set up a no-obligation meeting to explore all the background of the project. That gives both sides an opportunity to sort out the team chemistry right up front and both sides can decide whether or not to take the project further. For procedural reasons, especially in the case of the public sector, an RFP will still be required but at least I know how best to present the skills and experience that Intranet Focus has to offer.

    I look forward to the next instalment.

  4. Samuel Driessen

    Another agency here… 😉 Nice post, Dana! I think this can really help organizations select an agency. I find many have a hard time selecting the right agency (as well as a CMS platform and developer). I do agree with some of the comments though. I think you’re advice relates to large companies. I wouldn’t advise smaller companies to talk to 15 agencies and ask for RFI’s from them.
    To me one crucial selection criteria is: Will the agency truly understand what your business is about and provide an intranet with you that fits the organization. I see too many standard intranets being rolled out, that provide no sustained success because they don’t relate to what the org. is really about…

    Hope this helps! And keep up the good blogging y’all. This blog is a great resource to all of us! 🙂

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    […] Journal from an intranet voyage: assembling the crew: Stephen Fishman shares how his organisation ‘assembled the crew’. From the title you may assume this meant the project team, but Stephen is actually talking about the RFP process for selecting a vendor. Many companies have to go through this long and complicated process and it is one that many people need insight on. (You can always read our post on the RFP process.) […]

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