What is a Request for Information?

Malcolm Tatum

The request for information, or RFI, is a common business strategy that is designed to allow potential clients to collect data regarding the services and support offered by different potential providers. The exact format of the document will vary, based on the type and depth of information that the client wishes to obtain. Often, a request for information is a straightforward question and answer document that requires very simple answers, allowing the client to submit the request to multiple suppliers and easily compare the responses.

A request for information can be used as a basic business process to evaluate potential vendors.
A request for information can be used as a basic business process to evaluate potential vendors.

While the request for information shares some characteristics with the request for proposal or RFP, customers tend to use the RFI as a means of collecting basic data in preparation for deciding which vendors will be selected to receive an invitation to submit a formal proposal. The typical RFI does not provide much in the way of background on the client, and tends to focus more on general business practices, the range of goods and services available from the supplier, and sometimes the standard published pricing. In contrast, the RFP will usually go beyond this basic information, providing additional data on the client, requesting pricing based on volume usage, and inviting the suppliers to respond with solutions to specific needs of the client.

From this perspective, the request for information can be viewed as a means of collecting information that is then evaluated and utilized to determine the next step in the process. If the idea is to eventually seek out vendors for the establishment of a long-term contractual arrangement, the client may send the RFI out to multiple businesses that offer the basis products desired. Once all the responses are received, the client then compares the merits of each response, eventually narrowing the list of RFP candidates to a select few. At that point, vendors that successfully passed through this preliminary stage are invited to submit a proposal, typically using a request and a specified format supplied by the potential client.

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A request for information can also be used as a basic business process to evaluate potential vendors where no long-term contractual agreement is practical. In this scenario, the RFI serves the purpose of identifying vendors who offer the most competitive standard pricing for goods and services that the client may need from time to time. For example, a local business may send out an RFI to all the local office supply stores as a means of finding out which one has the lowest price on general office supplies, which ones offer volume discounts if an order is over a certain amount, and who delivers orders with or without a delivery charge. The data is kept on file, allowing the small business to make decisions on where to purchase office supplies when the need arises.

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