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Writing an RFP for Maximum ROI

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Are you looking to bring webcasting capabilities in-house? Do you want to make sure your corporate webcasting system is state-of-the-art? Is your company looking to combine audio, video, PowerPoint, screen shots, and other tools to communicate to an audience of 100 people? 10,000 people? If so, this article will help you know what to look for in corporate webcasting systems so you can make an educated choice.

As video webcasting capabilities become a corporate communications standard, organizations are moving away from homegrown solutions, service providers, and antiquated systems and moving toward industrial-strength, in-house rich media solutions to save money and gain functionality. In addition, recent advances in technology are making it possible and much more economical for companies of all sizes to easily set up, expand, maintain, and upgrade webcasting systems using either on-site, behind-the-firewall solutions or software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings. The key to selecting the webcasting solution that will work best for your company is to fully understand your various organizational needs as well as your desired goals and objectives, as only a few companies offer robust corporate enterprise webcasting capabilities that support rich media, live and on-demand events, and the capacity for tens of thousands of viewers.

The following article offers guidelines that will walk you through the necessary topics and questions you will need to consider and ask as you go through the RFP process. (Although we are going to orient this article as though you will issue a formal RFP, the topics outlined will be useful even if you opt for a more informal selection approach.) These guidelines will provide a framework that will compel potential vendors to disclose all the information you will need to find the right webcasting technology solution and to make an educated purchase that meets your company’s needs today and in the future.

Getting Started
Determine your webcasting needs holistically by doing internal as well as external research. It is wise to create a checklist that will allow you to capture the information you collect and a spreadsheet to keep track of the data. This spreadsheet will be instrumental during the RFP process with the various vendors you are considering.

Internal Research. Write out your company’s desired goals and objectives to get a complete picture of where your company is today and where it is going. Then, make a list of the departments in your organization and ask the members of each one what is working and what is not. Involve all decision makers in all departments early on. Different departments will have different webcasting and/or supporting technology needs and perspectives. It may be helpful to create a list of potential features or customizations for them to consider. You should also speak with other relevant individuals who can provide a broader perspective—including your userbase, staff, customers, clients, and other management—and take the time to fully understand your existing IT infrastructure and how webcasting products can fit into it. In addition, determine your current and future webcasting needs and potential applications. In this section of the RFP, it will be helpful to present a list of internal audiences who may rely on video webcasts for specific purposes.

Determine what you like about your current webcasting program and place those requirements in a "must-have" column. Then, let conversations with others inside the organization help you to create a list of "nice-to-haves." The RFP process and the multiple exchanges and demos you have with potential vendors will give you a better indication of how many of your nice-to-haves and must-haves can realistically fit into your new system. It may also drive new must-haves.

External Research. Find out about industry best practices via trade publications; trade shows; industry associations; industry analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, and IDC; and specialist firms such as Wainhouse Research and Interactive Media Strategies (IMS). This will allow you to learn what has worked and what hasn’t worked for organizations similar to your own. Then, compile a list of potential vendors who you would like to consider during the RFP.

Vendor and Product Evaluation
It is of utmost importance to make sure the partner you choose shares your vision and has the webcasting products you need to reach your goals. The more information you collect early on, the easier it will be to narrow the field of potential partners. When considering vendors, you should inquire about their general company description and history, areas of expertise, and product information and technology.

Vendor Description and Expertise
A basic company introduction should include its story, its overall history, and a narrative about what it can offer your organization. Be sure to understand the company’s areas of expertise and how it differentiates itself from its competition in regard to products and services. This way, you can avoid the standard reply of, "We are a webcasting solutions provider."

Webcasting offerings fall into three categories: services, hardware products, and software products. It is important to find out if the company you are evaluating provides services, products, or both. By understanding its business and the focus of its major product offerings, you can determine how much attention you will receive and, to some extent, how you will be supported if you become the company’s customer.

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