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Understanding the Difference Between an RFI vs RFQ vs RFP

Welcome to the first instalment of The New Purchaser’s Guide to Public Procurement—an article series that aims to help new procurement professionals learn the basics of public purchasing before diving into the job. While there are many intricacies in public procurement—varying between type of public agency, jurisdiction, and internal policies and procedures—this article serves as a starting point for those new to the field.

This first blog is going to cover the basics of the main types of RFx documents and how each of them are used in your agency’s bidding process for all project scopes, big or small.

Documents such as the RFI, RFQ, and RFP are tools public sector organizations use to manage projects at different phases so they can acquire goods and services at the lowest price and best value. The big question is, how do you know what document to use?

Let’s dive into the differences between these three documents and how you can use them effectively.

A chart showing the complexity of RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs—rated least to most complex, respectively.

Using a Request for Information (RFI)

If you’ve come across a project where you generally know what you need, but you don’t know what your detailed goals are, your timeline, or your exact budget—a Request for Information (RFI) may be the perfect document to help get the ball rolling on potential solutions in the early stages of your project. The RFI is the most basic in structure and usually doesn’t require very detailed proposals, but rather more basic information. It’s created at the beginning of the purchasing process and aims to gather relevant information on supplier capabilities, such as product specifications, quantity, and quality. It also gives the terms and conditions of the bid, facilities that may need the product or service, and the contact information and address of the person accepting proposals.

In the end, the goal of an RFI vs other requests is to save time on the vendor selection process later when your procurement team identifies more detailed requirements.

RFI Example

In pursuing technological advancement, the City of Greenfield’s Department of Public Works is seeking to enhance its operational efficiency and environmental sustainability. Recognizing the need for innovative solutions, the department issues this Request for Information to gather insights on the latest systems and services available for their city infrastructure.

Responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Implementing and tailoring software to increase operational efficiency and environmental sustainability
  • Integrating the software with existing systems
  • Training staff members in the use of the system
  • Testing and troubleshooting the software
  • Providing ongoing support and maintenance of the system

The City of Greenfield’s Department of Public Works requires that all potential vendors provide the following:

  • An overview of what services they provide
  • Their availability and potential timeline for implementation
  • Use cases of the software in relation to the public works department
  • What the vendor would need from the agency during the project
  • References from past projects of similar scope and complexity

The city reserves the right to select multiple vendors for this project, based on their qualifications and the best value for their services.

Using a Request for Quotation (RFQ)

A request for quotation (RFQ) is a little bit more detailed than an RFI, but its main objective is to request pricing details from prospective vendors. Like an RFI, the RFQ requires a procurement team to gather a list of several vendors to solicit proposals from.

Typically, agencies use this proposal document when they know the direction they want to go with the project, but they’re seeking payment terms and pricing information from potential suppliers to confirm their decision.

One key difference is teams are usually further along when they issue an RFQ. They have a detailed list of vendors that meet their specific needs, and the final determination is simply cost.

RFQ Example

The Greenfield Transit Commission (GTC is seeking to hire a vendor to provide paper supplies for the office.

Responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Monthly Shipments
  • Supplying (8) 8.5×11 20lb printer paper
  • Supplying (6) 8.5×14 20lb printer paper
  • Supplying (4) 8.5×11 colored paper
  • Supplying (2) HP 950 951 XL Multipack of 5 Ink – Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow
  • Supplying specialty papers as requested

Because they already know the exact product specifications, they don’t need much information from the suppliers other than their cost. They have decided to issue an RFQ to a list of suppliers to see which could give them the best price for their bulk order.

The GTC requires that all vendors provide a quote outlining the products provided and associated costs.

Using a Request for Proposal (RFP)

An RFP is probably the most standardized format for a proposal document and is one we’re sure you’ve heard of.

A request for proposal (RFP) goes beyond the general information an RFI response provides. Purchasers use this request document to explain the specific project requirements and a detailed description of the services or products a supplier must provide to meet those needs.

These requests involve writing up in-depth information about project goals and what you require of a potential vendor, along with cost details. RFPs require complex processes and more detail because they’re typically further along in the buying process, or the project requires more detailed information from vendors than others—such as vendor requirements, scope of the project, the timeline, questionnaires, and requests for references.

RFP Example

The City of Tomorrow Utilities (CTU) is issuing this RFP for qualified vendors to submit proposals for upgrading our current Utility Management System (UMS). The upgrade’s distinct purpose is to optimize our service delivery, enhance customer satisfaction, and improve our data management capabilities.

The selected vendor is required to:

  • Conduct an in-depth analysis of the current UMS and its functionalities
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to migrate data from the existing system to the new platform.
  • Implement a new UMS that integrates advanced technologies such as smart metering, mobile workforce management, and customer relationship management
  • Provide training for CTU staff to ensure a smooth transition and effective utilization of the new system
  • Offer ongoing technical support and maintenance services for a minimum period of five years after system implementation

Proposals must include:

  • Detailed description of the offered solution and its compatibility with CTU’s current technologic infrastructure
  • A proposed timeline for project completion, including key milestones
  • Proof of previous experience in similar projects
  • A complete financial breakdown, including costs associated with software licensing, implementation, training, and support
  • References from previous clients

The CTU reserves the right to accept or reject any proposals, negotiate with any qualified source, or cancel this RFP as it is deemed in the best interest of the city.

Easily Manage RFx Processes with Tech

Whether you need support building and issuing RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs or accepting vendor proposals and managing vendor performance, Euna Procurement is here to help. As a next generation eProcurement solution, we take the pain out of complex public procurement projects by providing teams with intuitive and collaborative tools.

To learn more about our purpose-built solution, request a demo today.


Read the next installment of the New Purchaser’s Guide to Public Procurement here.


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Learn how to find the right solutions partner to enhance your ERP, save time and resources, and ultimately deliver a greater impact on the communities you serve.

Download eBook