Ict@innovation: Free your IT Business in Africa/4-5
Module 4.5 FOSS Proposals and Contracts
For instructional purpose, it is advised that trainers/lectures use lectures, role play and group and individual exercises as a major means of delivering this module.
The terms and conditions of standard Bid Proposals for IT services can be a serious barrier for FOSS business. Most IT bid documents are prepared by the commercial software sales; which provide commercial only software solutions into the bid documents. The procurement departments of large companies and governments do not have the in-house expertise or access to alternative specifications which results in a very queued set of tender documents. Contract bidding on tenders need to be scrutinized as any blatant bias against FOSS specifications. Businesses and managers need to be alert and develop understanding of the processes and procedures (laws, guidelines, obligations, compliance etc.) governing business in their respective countries. Thus, there is an urgent need for FOSS-SMEs to have the knowledge needed to help them understand contract proposals, what elements/clauses/terms of reference are in most proposals which may inhibits FOSS based SMEs for successfully bidding for contracts. Furthermore, as most bid proposals are not aimed at companies offering FOSS products and services, this module leverages knowledge and skills in previous modules (Module 1 and 2, in particular) to help FOSS based SMEs to push forth and negotiated with contractors to consider including clauses and terms in bids which do not discriminate against FOSS products and services.However, in the African context, most ICT oriented bids come from outside the continent, albeit with a low success rate in winning such contracts. Outsourcing from IT intensive countries provide opportunities to lower cost countries to bid on contracts. In some cases preferred purchasing policies from the EU and elsewhere provide windows of opportunities for developing countries to bid on IT contracts to help these countries diversify their economic base away from low technology hinterlands. A wide gulf exists between first world and third world IT services, in fact, most of the IT services offered in the world have their origin in Africa and the bulk are from South Africa.A concerted effort needs to be made to position local FOSS companies so they can compete for calls for proposals with other companies both within their respective countries and with companies abroad.The challenge remains for very small companies to provide the proof of talent, management, capital, bid bonds and ability to prepare the bid proposals and the lobby capacity to secure contracts.
Knowledge on Proposals Writing
A business proposal in essence is a written document produced for a prospective client who wants to procure services. According to the Wikipedia, proposals can take one of three formats, namely:
- Formally requested proposals - these are written responses to published requirements
- Informally requested proposals - these are the interactions between a client and a service provider
- Unrequested proposals - these are like marketing brochures
For the purpose of this subsection, we will consider informally requested proposals in relation to providing FOSS training. You, the prospective service provider should ask as many questions as possible, to ensure that your proposal meets the requirements. Some pointers to keep in mind when drawing up a proposal:
- Study the market for similar services by either visiting websites of competitors and/or requesting them to provide you with information/quotes.
- Ask around and solicit information from friends and colleagues who might have undertaken similar work.
- Ask as many questions as possible from the prospective client as pointed out above; make a list of questions to be answered.
- Circulate a draft of the proposal amongst colleagues or even friends to provide comments
The following could be some of the headings for a training proposal.
The preamble sets who the parties are. Each party could be described in one or two sentences.
Indicate in this section what you are capable of. Indicate whether you have done similar work before and expand on your experience. This might also be an opportunity to provide some testimonials or indicating clients you have worked with.
The training objectives will be formulated on the basis of information provided by the client; why they want to do the training. This will ensure that there is an agreement on what should be achieved.
Training Content Outline
Provide in detail what will be covered on the course. You might also want to indicate whether or not there are any prerequisites for the courses.
Outline when what will be covered, where the breaks are located in the training, starting and finishing time.
Indicate whether the course is accredited and what type of certificate participants will receive. This might also be the place to discuss:
- Whether there will any assessments and if so, is it internal or external
- Whether or not participants might be able to sit for international examinations
The training cost will take in consideration, the following:
- The cost of using a training venue.
- Travelling to and from the training venue.
- The production of course material; if it should be developed then the cost will naturally be higher.
- The cutting and labeling of CDs.
- Preparation of the training.
- Support and monitoring.
- Any examination fees.
- Do you have to hire equipment?
- Accommodation if the training is out of town.
- Inclusion of Value Added Tax (VAT in the case of SA)
Also, indicate whether there should be a minimum or maximum number of participants.
Provide the prospective client with a payment schedule. Generally, the idea is to request 50% up front of the total training cost; 25% half way through the training and 25% when you deliver the report. Also, include the validity period of the training proposal. Include pertinently the period of notice you require before training could commence.
Outline any responsibilities between the client and you.
These could include items such as that the client will be responsible for:
- Recruiting the participants and ensuring that they meet the requirements.
- Arranging accommodation for participants.
- Arranging transport for participants.
- Your responsibilities could include responsibilities such as:
- Facilitating sessions in a professional way.
- Producing an interim report after a training session
This is the place where you could provide a profile of your company.
A company profile presents a concise outline about a company, its mission, objectives and goals, and a highlight of its achievements to date. The company profile identifies the best qualities of your company. For instance, the quality of your products and, or services and a few unique features. It should be written in a fashion that gives the reader an idea of the company’s personality. For a FOSS company it will have to emphasise the specific value to the customer and distinguish itself from commercial products. As many FOSS companies in Africa may be relatively new compared to their commercial product counterparts, the profile may have to be beefed up using the business plan or strategic plan. In other words where the past performance history is short; the statement of intention would be used instead.
An eye-catching and refined professional profile will provide the reader with a thorough understanding of your company's vision and mission, the products and services you offer, your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), your credibility and your history.
A sample online company profile of Sabinet Online Ltd based in South Africa (http://www.sabinet.co.za/)
With a sound track record of 25 years, Sabinet Online Ltd, trading as Sabinet, has pioneered and become an established leader in the facilitation of high-level access to trusted electronic information. Our clients include public and private organisations, as well as academic institutions in South Africa, the USA and the rest of Africa. Our offerings are characterised by global partnerships and information best practices that straddle the physical and electronic worlds.
Our offerings are characterised by global partnerships and information best practices that straddle the physical and electronic worlds.
To meet the unique information needs of our diverse client base in this rapidly growing market, we combine specific elements from our broad portfolio of products to create a total solution, so aiding research and decision making, and assisting organisations to improve services, save costs and increase productivity.
Bringing it all together!
The focus for Sabinet:
International alliancesSabinet is well placed in the global online information market, and maintains good relationships with a number of partners. The company also holds a number of distributorships, which it manages to the benefit of its users, including:
FOSS is still a new concept and model in most places. It is therefore important that the company profile of a FOSS company is kept free from technical or obscure terminology. Specialised terminology or jargon poses serious communication barriers. The company profile seeks to disseminate information aimed at attracting potential FOSS customers and supporters. Avoiding jargon is vital in facilitating comprehension and retention of interest of the reader. The highlights in the profile should reflect company values. For example inclusion of comments from existing client shows commitment to customer service and value. On the other hand mentioning the employees who have made special contributions or achieved outstanding results shows your commitment to employee satisfaction and motivation as well as dedication to client satisfaction.
Why make a company profile?
Important as it is, many companies have invested a lot of effort in making a good profile. But why devote a lot of time and effort in writing a company profile? The basic idea in creating a company profile is to briefly and concisely introduce a company to a target customer audience or stakeholder group. Important stakeholder groups include potential investors, customers, and new employees. The goal may be to make the company attractive to potential investors, to market the products and services of the company by showcasing past performance and track record or new employees to aid growth and expansion of the company. The flavour of the company profile you make and send out to interested parties provides them with a bird's-eye view of information relevant to their interest in your company, creates expectations and provides a glimpse as to how these expectations will be fulfilled by the company.
What should you put in a company profile?
There are a few basic elements of content that every company profile must contain (See HowToDoThings in the reference section). While you can make specific profiles aimed at a specific group of people, say investors, for example, the information contained in such a profile may not have much relevance to other segments or groups such as customers or employees. A better alternative is to make a general company profile that includes sections highlighting relevant information specific to a certain segment, but also providing an overall view of the company's ethos and principles. Such a company profile should include an introduction, brief history on the origins of the company, relevant data on the company in terms of income, revenue, structure, infrastructure and resources, products, professional experience, capacity, future plans, both in the short and long terms, testimonials from existing customers, employees and major investors and a mission statement or a ‘guiding philosophy' for the company.
Presentation and length of a company profile
As an indicator about the healthy prospects and future of your company, a profile should be professionally created. A good profile must be built on a professional layout, must have no errors and if it is designed as a brochure, it is preferable to get it professionally made using quality paper, printing and structuring. As a page on the website, it should be attractive in appearance, immediately catching a reader's eye, interspersed with relevant pictures and sub-headings. The length of the profile will depend upon the information you wish to provide, but a good rule of thumb relating to the length is about 10-15 pages. Any more might actually bore the reader and become a waste of efforts and any profile shorter might indicate a weak position and make the reader question the company's potential.
When to use the company profile?
The answer to this question is any time. Don't make a company profile only because you want to woo potential investors or customers. Rather, once you have been in business for more than a couple of years, prepare the company profile and keep upgrading it at least once a year and make sure to keep adding achievements and growth prospects as and when they happen.
Making a company profile is a simple and easy task for anyone who has been in the business for some time. If it is a new business, you would have made a business plan (as discussed in module 4.1.3) to begin with, a company profile is just an extension of that business plan, the only difference being that you are presenting actual facts of achievements rather than projections for success as you would in a business plan.
A company profile can be a slick and colourful brochure detailing information or it can be a web page on the company's website, usually referred in sections titled "About Us" or "Who are we", etc. Follow the guidelines listed below to prepare your own company profile and how to use it to promote your company.
What do you need to include in your professional profile?
What you need to include in your professional profile is exactly what you need to accomplish in your business. The following pointers are useful in this regard.
- It needs to tell your company's story in a way that effectively engages your audience.
- It needs to be creatively crafted, well written and professionally polished.
- It needs to be about the heart and soul of your company. Your professional profile needs to tell your readers what your business is all about.
- It needs to tell the story of your company's vision and mission. What are the dreams you have for your company? What is the purpose of your company?
- It needs to be about how your company began, how it grew and what it is today. Why did you start your business? How did it begin?
- It needs to include key personnel. If you are not the only key player in your company, include a few tidbits about the others. Who are your managers or other key players? What roles do they play?
- It needs to include product and service descriptions. What types of products and services do you offer and how do these help your visitors solve their problems?
- It needs to include a sense of the culture surrounding the business
- It needs to be honest. You need to be honest to establish credibility.
- It needs to be attention-grabbing
The Professional Profile Writing Tips
- Before you begin to write your profile, write down a short outline showing your personal qualifications and your business accomplishments. Be precise and specific towards in this process. Include everything that shows off the professionalism of your company and your staff. It is useful at times to use brainstorming or mind mapping software to organise your thoughts. FreeMind is a good piece to use for this task and can be downloaded at http://sourceforge.net/projects/freemind/. In her “Writing Your Professional Profile - 7 Tips to Creating a Polished Professional Profile”, Anita Aspen enumerated these tips on writing a good profile, which can be useful both from a company and individual perspective:
- Use strong, descriptive words. You want the final profile to be short yet powerful. You are looking to grab the readers’ attention so make it strong and definitive.
- As you sit and write your profile, you will want to include a brief mention of the type of clients you work with, as many clients like to know who else they may be dealing as well as you.
- Include any awards or recognitions you or your business may have received. Credential such as these signify to others the high quality of your work. You will also want to make sure you include any associations you may belong to for these connections can go a long way in establishing credibility.
- Writing a company profile is similar to writing a personal profile in that you have to make sure you spell out the facts for the readers. If you hold a certification in a particular field, don't assume that the reader will know what that acronym stands for. Spell it out so your readers are clear as to what you are qualified in. The whole purpose in writing a professional profile is to gain more contact, associations and clients so be clear and precise.
- It is best to write a company profile in your own words, coming from your heart. You know your business better than anyone else and no one is going to describe it better than you.
- Once you have the rough draft done, take a second look at it. Take out anything you feel is not imperative for your reader to know, spice up any parts that are lacking and read it one more time. Once you are at this point, it's a perfect time to have it proofread and edited either by a reliable friend or colleague or a professional writer.
Module 4.5: ASSESSMENT
- Exercise 1: Write down and present to the class 5 Tips for doing FOSS business in your country
- Exercise 2: Write down and present to the class 7 tips for wining FOSS contracts in your country
- Exercise 3: In the introduction to this module, there is a call for “a concerted effort to be made to position local (African) FOSS companies so they can compete for calls for proposals with other companies both within their respective countries and with companies abroad. List at least 5-10 efforts African IT-Based SMEs need to do in this regard
- Exercise 4: Answer and Discuss the following questions
- What are the pre-requisites to establishing a business?
- What are the various business start-up options?
- What are the major obstacles to service provision?
- What are the key components of a business plan?
- What are the challenges in securing government business?
- A case study with examples of outsourcing can be found in Module 2.3