What is a request for information (RFI)?

A request for information (RFI) comes into play in the early stages of the contracting process for hiring an external consulting firm /consultant, and is used to invite information on the service offerings and capabilities of a prospective consulting firm /consultant.

Businesses that have clearly identified their objective with respect to a consulting project often have an idea of what they are looking for in external support. When making the selection, it is important to ensure that the firm’s capabilities and expertise align with your specific business objectives. Some businesses also like to know about consultants’ previous experience in similar fields, and differentiating factors with respect to other similar offerings on the market.

An RFI is used to explore this kind of information. As a preliminary step, it can be a speedy, efficient and cost-effective way to develop a shortlist of prospective consultants, and it is rarely used as the basis for actually selecting the consulting firm. It is often a short document of up to five pages, which offers basic information on the project, and invites basic information in return.

A good RFI is expected to:

  • Be structured in a clear and accepted format;
  • Be clearly worded, so as to avoid ambiguity and prompt the precise response that is being sought out;
  • Invite specific, concise and comparable information that is limited to the project at hand. This includes information on offerings & capabilities, corporate culture, talent & leadership, finances, previous and current experience, and quality checking mechanisms, among others;
  • Omit any considerations of cost;
  • Be devoid of prejudice or bias;
  • Be cost effective: The higher the cost undertaken by the consultant to prepare the document, the higher the subsequent cost burden on your business;
  • Be respectful of the consulting firms’ time and resources;
  • Have a sufficiently long deadline to allow consulting firms to prepare relevant information. Most RFIs have a two-week deadline, while one week is usually the smallest timeframe.

Information obtained from the pitching consultancies / consultants through a RFI can client organisations develop a request for proposal (RFP) – a more detailed document that invites information on how a consulting firm will go about solving a business’ specific set of problems. An RFP is complete with a set of desired outcomes and a timeline, inviting consultants to propose a strategy to achieve the same.

Read also: What is a request for proposal (RFP)?

In certain cases, a RFP can be accompanied with a request for the cost of providing the services in question, also known as a request for quotation (RFQ).

Read also: What is a request for quotation (RFQ)?

An RFI can reveal gaps or alignment in a consultant’s capabilities, which can either be used to eliminate them from an RFP shortlist, or to tailor the RFP so as to extract more specific information on the project in question. An RFI also has intrinsic value, as it lets consulting firms know that there is competition for the project, which encourages the latter to provide information effectively.