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Written by David Lyon

Is it time to ditch the RFI questionnaire (request for information)?

When applying for entry into the USA, the form asks “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?”

Request for information

What is it Request for information?

You’d have to be a pretty honest spy or terrorist to actually answer “Yes”. What is it a RFI? Request for information (RFI) is a formal process for gathering information from potential suppliers of a good or service.

It seems to me that many of our supplier on-boarding questions and request for information questions actually fall into this same category of pointlessness.

So, is it now time to ditch the pointless questionnaire in favor of something that actually has more impact?

Where do these type of questions occur?

RFI’s, RFP’s, GDPR, data security, modern slavery, human rights, diversity, environmental sustainability …. I’ve seen them all “managed” through questionnaires… well-meaning and well-intentioned, but utterly pointless.

Have you ever seen the following types of questions?

  • Please upload a copy of your policy on….?  

  • Do you have someone that manages your risk around…?

  • Describe how you deal with…?

At best, these type of vague questions give a semblance of due diligence, but in reality, they are little more than an exercise in wasting everyone’s time.  

To be valid, these questions would have to be independently assessed by a panel of experts who are qualified to have an opinion.   In reality, most procurement teams don’t even read the content that is submitted in response.

What’s more, the responses are not legally binding and they don’t compel the supplier to improve their approach in a particular direction.

These type of questions are valid, but should be reserved for a face to face review with the supplier.

What should you do?

Turn questions into one of two format types:

  1. An impartially audited standard

  1. A declaration that will require a deliberate and meaningful lie or (if answered truthfully) a meaningful way forward.

Here are a couple of examples:

Environmentally Sustainability

Try not to ask general things like:

  • Tell us about how you will be protecting bio-diversity.

  • Do you have an Environmental Director?

Try to ask specific and verifiable questions:                     

  • Are you accredited by the Rainforest Alliance? (We will ask them to confirm)

  • Do you keep a minimum of 20% of your land area in natural state to preserve wild-life? (We may send auditors to verify).

  • Please provide your annual carbon emissions in tons. 

Data Security

Try not to ask general things like:  

  • How do you protect the data from illegal access and hackers?

  • What is your approach to training your staff on data security?

  • Please provide a copy of your Data Security Policy.

Try to ask specific and verifiable questions:                     

  • We expect all our suppliers to have independent assessment of their data security protocols. Do you hold current ISO27001 or equivalent certification?

  • What percentage of your staff have completed data security training?  (We may ask for copies of training records.)

In procurement, our job is to guide our stakeholders in how to make best use of the supply base.   Part of that duty should be around ensuring that the organisation’s values and ethics are mirrored through the supply chain.

We can help by making sure that our questions provide meaningful direction to our supply base about what we expect…. And meaningful identification of suppliers that (currently) do not meet those expectations. Check out cloud supply chain!

David is a CPO with experience across multiple industry sectors. Having started his career in textiles and retail, he has since had senior roles in the Electronics, Pharmaceutical and Financial sectors, including Global Head of Corporate Procurement for Pharmaceuticals at Novartis Pharma AG. David led the Cancer Research team that won the 2015 Procurement Leaders award for Transformation and has since delivered "Transformation of procurement" in several well-known multinationals. David is a multilingual professional with over 25 years of Procurement and Supply Chain experience.

David Lyon