Selecting the Right E-Assessment Platform | Part 3: Making Your Final Decision

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So you’ve taken a demo. Now what?

With many options and a checklist of must-haves, finding the right fit for your organisation might seem like a maze. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This blog series is your shortcut through the e-assessment minefield, offering clear, actionable insights to guide you from curiosity to contract with confidence.

To refresh the steps, the proper way to select a online exam software can be broken down into three basic steps: the Requirements and Research Phase, the Demo and Shortlist Phase, and the Final Decision-Making Phase (you are here). 

Demos can clarify the process by allowing you to see the platform in action. But now comes the big decision time- the head honcho of all decisions: selecting the right platform for your organisation. The step from “longlist” to “signed contract” can be huge, so without further ado, let’s make the process as easy as possible for you.

Recapping Phase 1 and Phase 2

Phase 1: Know What You Want and Assemble the Right Team to Achieve It
  1. Get your team right: Round up Decision-Makers who know your assessment needs inside and out. 
  2. Know what you need: Dig deep to determine exactly what you want your e-assessment platform to do. Whether you need a vast assortment of question types or iron-clad security, get clear on your must-haves.
  3. Market recon time: Watch industry events, stalk LinkedIn groups, and do your homework on platforms. It’s all about finding the one that ticks your boxes and feels right for your organisation.
Phase 2: Smash the Demo
  1. Prep like a pro: Know your needs, have a team at the ready, and set your must-haves before the demo.
  2. Demo dive-in: Jump into the demo with questions ready, test everything, and pay attention to details.
  3. Post-demo pow-wow: Gather your group of decision-makers, weigh the pros and cons, and decide if it’s a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. 

You now should have a longlist of e-assessment platforms.

Who Needs to Tender vs. Who Doesn’t

Government and Public Sector Organisations: They are typically required to go through a formal tender process. This is due to regulations and the need for transparency and fairness when using public funds. The process ensures that multiple vendors have a fair opportunity to bid and that the selection is made based on objective criteria. That said, private sectors can go to tender if they choose to, but they aren’t required to. 

Private Sector Organisations: These entities are not usually required to follow a formal tender process. They have more flexibility in choosing vendors and can negotiate directly with a preferred supplier based on their specific needs and budget. However, some large private organisations may still opt for a tender process for major purchases to ensure competitive pricing and to find the best fit for their requirements.

Starting the Proposal Process

You should be looking at a list of 6-8 potential suppliers. You are now ready for the Request for Information/Request for Proposal phase.

1. Preparing the RFP or RFI Document

Draft the document 

Write the RFP or RFI. This document should contain:

  • Introduction: Brief background about your organisation and the purpose of the RFP/RFI.
  • Project overview – A detailed description of the project or need.
  • Requirements – Specific criteria that vendors must meet. This could include technical specifications, timelines, budget constraints, and any legal or regulatory requirements.
  • Submission guidelines – Clear instructions on formatting and submitting proposals, including deadlines.
  • Evaluation criteria – Outline how the proposals will be assessed. Criteria might include cost, vendor experience, technical capability, and support services.
  • Point of Contact – Who to contact for queries and clarifications.

2. Distributing the RFP/RFI

Select potential vendors

Identify potential vendors (your longlist) who may have the capabilities to meet your requirements. This could be based on prior research, market knowledge, or existing relationships.

Public notice

If the process is open to any vendor, you might publish the RFP/RFI on your website, in trade publications, or through professional networks.

Direct distribution

Send the RFP/RFI directly to selected vendors via email or a procurement platform.

3. Providing Evaluation Criteria

Transparent criteria

Ensure the proposal evaluation criteria are clear, fair, and objective. This helps vendors understand what is important to your organisation and how their proposals will be judged.

Weighting system

You might assign different weights to various criteria based on their importance to the project. For example, functionality/features (question types supported, integrations, accessibility features, etc) could be 30%, UX/UI (user-friendliness, support documents, etc) could be 30%, and security & data privacy 20%, and so on until you reach elements that the platform should include, but isn’t make or break.

Selection process

Outline the steps that will follow the submission. For example, will there be a presentation, a demonstration, or a negotiation phase?

Timeline for decision

Provide an estimated timeline for when vendors can expect a decision.

Tips from our Experts

Set SMART goals: When defining the scope and objectives, make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This clarity helps vendors propose solutions that precisely align with your goals.

Be as frank and transparent as possible: There’s no point in being shy with what you want. Maintain transparency with vendors about the evaluation process. Be open to iterating the RFP/RFI based on feedback or queries from potential vendors. This can lead to more accurate and competitive proposals.

Evaluation Phase

You will now have a stack of responses from vendors and it’s time to judge the best fit and create your shortlist.

4. Review Responses to the RFP/RFI

Collect responses

Organise all proposals received by the review deadline. Based on your policy, late submissions may be excluded.

Initial screening

Check each proposal for completeness and compliance with the submission guidelines outlined in the RFP/RFI. Proposals that don’t meet the basic requirements may be disqualified.

Organise for evaluation

Prepare the proposals for detailed evaluation, which might involve distributing them to different evaluation team members or uploading them to a shared platform.

5. Evaluate Proposals Based on Predetermined Criteria

Cost

Assess the financial aspects of each proposal, including the initial cost, ongoing expenses, maintenance costs, and potential cost savings.

Compliance with requirements

Determine how well each proposal meets the specific requirements outlined in the RFP/RFI. This includes technical specifications, delivery timelines, and scope of work.

Vendor experience

Judge each vendor’s experience and track record. Consider their history with similar projects, industry reputation, and stability.

Support and training  

Look at the level of customer support and training the vendor offers. This is crucial for the successful implementation and ongoing use of the service or product.

Data security

Assess the vendor’s data security and privacy approach for technology-related proposals. This is especially important if sensitive or personal information is involved.

Scalability

Consider whether the vendor’s solution can grow and adapt to your organisation’s future needs.

6. Consider Requesting Follow-Up Demons or Trials

Demos 

Although you should already have had an initial demo at this point, you can schedule bespoke follow-up demos, which allow you to see very specific features, add-ons, or processes in more detail.

Trials 

Arrange for a trial period. This hands-on experience can be invaluable in assessing whether the solution fits your organisation’s needs.

Tip From Our Experts 

Use a centralised tracking system: Use a centralised system (like a spreadsheet or a database) to track all received proposals. This helps organise and reference them throughout the evaluation process.

Make a checklist for initial screening: Develop a checklist based on the submission guidelines to quickly identify proposals that don’t meet the basic requirements. This can include completeness, adherence to format, and timeliness of submission.

Have a diverse evaluation team: Involve team members from different departments (technical, financial, operational) in the evaluation process. This brings multiple perspectives and expertise to the table.

Scorecard system: Use a standardised scorecard for evaluating proposals. This helps maintain objectivity and makes comparing different vendors on the same criteria easier.

You should now have a shortlist of 2 or 3 platforms!

Final Selection Phase

The “Negotiation and Decision Making” phase is arguably the most critical step in the procurement process. It’s where the theoretical meets the practical, and the plans and evaluations made so far start to take concrete shape. This phase involves two main components: negotiation with your shortlist of vendors and making the final decision. Here’s a detailed look at each:

7. Negotiation with Preferred Vendor(s)

Selection of Vendors for Negotiation

  • Identify top candidates – Based on the proposal evaluation, identify the vendor(s) whose offerings most closely align with your requirements. Usually, these are the ones that scored highest in the evaluation criteria.
  • Prepare for negotiation – Gather detailed information about the selected vendor(s), including their strengths and weaknesses, past negotiation behaviours, and market position. Understand your limits and deal-breakers as well.

Negotiation Strategy

  • Set clear objectives – Know what you want to achieve regarding pricing, terms, service levels, and any customisation needs.
  • Prioritise your needs: Understand which aspects you can be flexible on and which are non-negotiable.
  • Create a win-win scenario: Aim for a negotiation outcome that benefits both parties. A good deal should motivate the vendor to deliver its best service.

Conducting Negotiations

  • Initial meetings – Start the negotiation with an initial meeting to outline your key requirements and listen to the vendor’s initial offer.
  • Discuss details – Go into specifics about pricing, payment terms, service level agreements (SLAs), customisation requirements, delivery timelines, and after-sales support.
  • Flexibility and creativity – Be open to creative solutions that can meet your needs while accommodating the vendor’s capabilities and constraints.
  • Documentation – Keep a detailed record of all discussions, agreements, and revisions.

8. Making the Final Decision

Assessment of Negotiation Outcomes

  • Review offers – After negotiations, review the final offers from the vendors. Assess them against your original requirements and the goals set for the negotiation.
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – Consider not just the upfront costs but also long-term expenses, such as maintenance, upgrades, and support, etc.
  • Risk assessment – Evaluate any potential risks associated with each vendor, such as financial stability, reliance on third parties, and the ability to deliver as promised.

Decision Making

  • Consultation – Discuss the final offers with key stakeholders in your organisation. This might include senior management, technical experts, and end-users.
  • Alignment with goals – Ensure the chosen vendor aligns with your organisation’s broader strategic objectives and immediate project goals.
  • Approval process – Depending on your organisation’s structure, the final decision may need approval from higher management or a board.

Finalising the Agreement

  • Contract drafting – Once a vendor is chosen, draft a contract encapsulating all terms, conditions, and agreements made during the negotiation.
  • Legal review – Have the contract reviewed by legal experts to ensure compliance with laws and regulations and to safeguard your organisation’s interests.
  • Signing the contract – After final reviews and approvals, sign the contract with the vendor. Ensure that both parties have a clear understanding of their obligations.

Tips From Our Experts

Understand Total Value: Look – and we cannot stress this enough – beyond pricing. Consider the total value a vendor brings, including quality, service, support, and innovation. What you save in money will cost you double in time and frustration. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen a cobbled-together Frankenstein’s monster platform because instead of paying for an all-in-one solution, they tried to save money and create something themselves. If a platform has everything you want except the price point, negotiate with them. Good platforms will usually be able to find a meeting point in the middle that gives you everything you want at a price that satisfies everyone.

Seek creative solutions: Be open to creative options that satisfy both parties’ needs. Sometimes the best solutions come from thinking outside the standard contractual terms. And if a vendor doesn’t have a specific feature you want, the good ones are usually willing to work with you in developing it (within reason). So if you don’t see something that you want, ask!

Document everything: Keep a detailed record of all discussions, agreements, and changes. This documentation is crucial for clarity and avoids future misunderstandings.

Legal and Compliance Check: Before finalising the agreement, have it reviewed by legal experts. This step is crucial to ensure the contract is legally sound and protects your organisation’s interests.

And there you have it, the grand tour of selecting online exam software, from initial curiosity to signing on the dotted line. It’s a journey that might seem daunting at first, with its many steps, considerations, and decisions. But remember, the goal is to find a platform that not only ticks all your boxes but also becomes a catalyst for growth and innovation within your organisation.

As we wrap up this series, remember that while this blog has equipped you with the knowledge and steps to navigate the selection process, there’s always more to learn and consider. For those eager to dive deeper and ensure no stone is left unturned, our upcoming ebook is your next destination. Packed with a complete guide and a meticulously crafted checklist, it’s designed to walk you through every phase of selecting an e-assessment platform with confidence and clarity.

Happy platform hunting!

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Cristina Gilbert
Copywriter and digital content enthusiast, Cristina is motivated by the fast-paced world of e-assessment and the opportunities online exams give students to thrive.
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