Each year, companies across the globe in a variety of industries reach out to information technology firms in hopes of finding the partner that can best meet the technology and business needs of their organization by requesting a proposal, also known as the RFP. Those in the IT space who see thousands of these RFP’s, each with its own set of unique requirements, are forced to strike a balance between what looks good on paper and what would be truly effective in a live environment, all the while focusing on what differentiates them from the competition but careful to avoid overpromising and underdelivering.

It’s a thin line that at times feels akin to a tightrope stretched high above the ground with no safety net below.  At our firm, I read hundreds of RFP’s each year. And, while they all have their own flavor, many, if not all, have striking similarities. Case in point: I challenge anyone today to find an RFP that doesn’t contain any of the following buzz words: Innovation, Automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) or 21st Century End-User Experience. They seem to be woven into the very fabric of every RFP from the small scale, single tower opportunity, to the largest ITO. And, they seem to come complete with the promise of cost savings and less human intervention. But, is there any substance to them or are they merely vaporware?

It occurred to me nearly four years ago as I sat in my office chair late one evening thumbing through the latest in a series of lengthy RFPs that something about this one was different. As I read further, I noticed nearly every paragraph contained or referenced at least one of these buzzwords. When I was finished, I went back and counted eighty-three instances where innovation or something that fell under its umbrella was mentioned.

It was then I realized that the IT industry as a whole was staring into the face of a tsunami of new expectations, largely fueled by buzzwords, lack of experience and lack of understand. Like many in our industry, we were scrambling to find a foothold amidst the onslaught – after all, how do you coherently and cogently respond to a question of need where the premise may be flawed from the beginning? Gone were the days when operational excellence and a “shift-left” mentality was enough to separate us from the competition. Prospective IT clients were demanding more, not only in terms of excellence and stability, but more in the way of incident avoidance and less human interaction, Artificial Intelligence and chatbots, all aligned to support a greater, more meaningful end-user experience for a younger, more socially connected and tech savvy workforce.

If that weren’t enough, this new way of doing business needed to follow the same blueprint of operational excellence we’d spent years building only now it had to be better, faster, stronger and, here’s the kicker, at a discount to traditional services. In a nutshell, prospective IT clients were demanding more for less.

That got me thinking. Maybe our clients were onto something with the more for less approach. What if there was a way to cut cost while delivering an excellent service that gave them greater functionality, more flexibility, and an improved end user experience? Science fiction, right? Well, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence, automation, chatbots and proactive tools, for the first time less human interaction seemed possible and at a fraction of the cost, but would it really work and how close would it come to matching the lofty expectations?

Expectations, after all, set the stage for perceived reality at some point in the future. Just like the trailer for our favorite new movie, we anticipate the full feature to resemble the action and suspense consolidated in the two-minute teaser, but often we find ourselves feeling let down when the movie doesn’t live up to the hype. It is the same in IT.

Our clients read articles, talk to friends and colleagues in and out of their industry, attend workshops and speak with vendors that offer a glimpse into the latest tools and technologies, each attempting to entice them with their line of products and/or services. After all, our clients are just like us, they have businesses to run and must do so in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible, so it’s no surprise they have latched onto the wave of innovation.  But just as they are hoping AI, chatbots and proactive technologies will make their businesses run smarter and at a fraction of the cost, it is up to us to truly partner with them on this journey to ensure reality and expectations are aligned.

The operational effectiveness of these tools and technologies take center stage when it comes to driving efficiencies and cost savings and if they only work half as good as advertised, the result is little if any impact to the bottom line, a frustrated business, and a broken partnership, which is a losing proposition for us and our clients. So how do we combat this problem?

It is incumbent upon us to narrow the gap that exists between reality and expectations – particularly if the client’s “reality” simply isn’t. After all, a hook is a great way to capture the attention of your audience but if there is no substance, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, how effective can we or our clients be in the long run? In efforts to narrow the gap we are leaning on experience to drive the narrative.

After years of research and testing we now have real-time examples that are revealing the value of these new tools. No longer theoretical, we’re now able, by examining any of our diverse set of clients, to quantify the efficiencies and resulting savings and use that information to present to future clients in a way that is real and tangible. It is this fact-based approach that allows us to align the expectations with reality, careful to consider the unique needs of each client and their dynamic end-user bases and build a roadmap that aligns to their business and budgetary goals.

A recent example is with one of our healthcare industry clients. They had, for years, run their IT organization internally, but due to budget constraints were forced to look outside to free up key members of the organization for future initiatives as well as find cost savings. This has become commonplace in the industry and we were able to sit down with this client and construct a roadmap that included a phased transition and ultimately a transformation of their IT organization. We uncovered areas inside the business that provided significant opportunities for our tools and technologies to drive real efficiencies and savings. The roadmap we designed for them allowed us to work together to help the business run better, faster, and stronger by driving down contacts to their service desk and reducing the number of deskside occurrences through proactive analytics and resolution.

We were also able to return time and productivity to the user base by providing more meaningful and innovative ways to connect, increasing satisfaction at all levels, and at a significant reduction in operational expense. And in reality, these solutions would not have been brought up in the RFP process simply because the client didn’t realize these were the right questions to ask and areas to audit.