Darrell is a freelance consultant specialising in proposal automation. He believes technology is a tool and it’s how we use it that really matters. Darrell is our nerd.
Pippa doesn’t like the thought of machines telling us what to write – it’s scary. What happens to originality, personality and emotion? She doesn’t trust emerging technology and is not receptive to it. Pippa is, quite obviously, our luddite!
Darrell and Pippa love sparring, but will they find common ground by the end of this article? Let’s see…
What ‘technology’ are we talking about?
Automation – systems that automate bid management, bid coordination and bid writing. Technology that removes the human element of what I have been doing quite successfully for over twenty years.
Except I would describe it as technology that removes the tedious drudgery and augments a human’s talents, skills and experience. As bid professionals, we’re heroes at winning work the hard way and we’ve developed some impressive superpowers. Now technology is offering us almost magical weapons to aid us in the battles to come. Our challenge and opportunity is to find a winning combination of human and tech.
You have such a way with words Darrell, you could almost convince me with that one paragraph. But I don’t think of any of the bid process as ‘tedious drudgery’ – it’s all part of persuasion.
What’s wrong with a simple Excel spreadsheet?
I love a spreadsheet. For most bids, an Excel spreadsheet bid plan is a beautiful thing – keeps things simple and easy to see. I don’t need automation for that.
Absolutely nothing wrong with a good spreadsheet. They’re simple, powerful, highly adaptable and easily shareable. For that matter, there’s nothing wrong with a whiteboard for simple bid plans.
Provided no one comes along and wipes it off! Although I love spreadsheets, I admit I am currently looking into CRM as my business grows. I can imagine planning software for mega bids is useful when you involve multiple people. But do these automaters forget that we aren’t all churning out 3,000 bids a day?
There’s definitely a scale consideration. It’s often larger organisations with the money to invest in new technology, the resources to operate and secure it, and are likely to see a bigger return on investment across a wider user base. That said, smaller bid teams can benefit too but the return on investment must be clear.
Do we trust automated compliance checks?
As a control freak (aren’t we all?!), I don’t trust it to be as thorough as me! How can a machine pick out the nuances of language and written instructions that we, as experienced professionals, can pick up?
I see it as a partnership rather than a competition. It’s like using spell cheque. Can I trust it to find every spelling error in my writing? No, because it didn’t correct “spell check”! But it regularly helps me pick out any mistakes I didn’t spot myself.
Similarly, automating compliance requirements augments the experienced professional. Or perhaps it’s the other way around? Together, the technology and the human collaborate by checking each other’s work, automating time-consuming tasks and innovating new solutions.
It’s a great timesaving thing for sure. And yes, useful for the teams that churn out hundreds of bids. But I like the old-fashioned approach – turn every page. And yes, I do use PDF on the screen and a virtual highlighter, so I guess I have succumbed to a certain amount of technology…
Is technology always the answer?
With so much technology available, we can sometimes feel pressure to use it simply because it exists. Not everyone needs or will benefit from the latest and greatest Next Big Thing. Choosing the right tool for the job is half the battle and we should consider the need for new technology carefully.
Yes, and to do that, we need to learn about what’s available, and not just use it because it’s the latest fancy gadget. People seem to like shiny things, but they don’t all have staying power. All automated tools need management, which can often lead to them being decommissioned quite quickly.
Will AI replace Bid Writers?
We were talking about ChatGPT on #ThursdayThrong the other day and about how it can literally write your LinkedIn posts and quality answers for you with just some basic details tapped in – now THAT’S scary!
Ah, this is everyone’s biggest fear! Will robots steal my job?
I agree there’s a laziness trap and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of mindless, undirected, pure AI-generated writing in the near future. Despite the undoubted cleverness of tools like ChatGPT, the real winners will be those who use it to enhance their own writing and simplify some tasks.
I guess people already use Grammarly etc to help with spelling and grammar. I also use Word Editor to double check my work, as I have been known to make the odd mistake. No, really!
Is there a risk of plagiarism?
In some fields this is definitely a concern. School homework is perhaps the most obvious but there are already AI models for identifying plagiarism and even models for identifying AI-generated content.
But surely using ChatGPT is plagiarism at its finest? Something has been written by ‘someone’ else and we are passing it off as our own?
Sure, but the entire bid freelancing and consulting industry is built on exactly the same concept. What’s important is not who wrote it but whether it delivers clear, accurate and convincing information to help purchasers make good decisions. It’s just another contributor, whose content we’re editing, rewriting or discarding. Only difference is, it won’t sulk when you do.
How will this technology impact our profession?
I think if there is a threat to the bid profession from technology, it will be driven by procurement. As they are challenged to be ever more objective, accountable and transparent in their decision making, they’re turning to technology to remove bias and influence.
This is true. I’ve had to ask a CQ about whether the bid will be evaluated by machine or human. Because why write great persuasive text when all they are looking for are key words? If machines are setting and marking questions, you may as well get AI to write the response. And in that case, just go back to looking at price, because the words become irrelevant.
Yes, and that’s why the procurement profession is moving away from transaction management with source-to-pay software integrating the end-to-end process of buying, monitoring and billing. Rather than replacing procurement jobs, they expect to free up more time for supplier relationship management and finding new streams of added value.
What happens when procurement are using AI to score bids and automate buying decisions? Logically, it wouldn’t need a written proposal at all but would negotiate with supplier AIs in the language of ones and zeroes. Consequently, our evolving profession must elevate to meet the new needs of our procurement counterparts.
Well that’s a lovely thought…time to diversify? I think not. People buy from people – we cannot let technology dictate this, we MUST keep the human element. I want to write with feeling, so my readers feel an emotional connection.
Should we use current technology e.g., MS365 to its full potential before installing new stuff?
Most people probably won’t even think of Microsoft Office as ‘tech’ because it’s so normal in daily working lives. Yet, most users only use a tiny fraction of what Word and Excel can do. I once took a training course on Excel and the main thing I learned is how much I still don’t know about it!
For those seeking some simple document automation, Word has surprisingly powerful built-in features. Field Codes, Quick Parts, Mail Merge and Macros can all be big time savers for proposals.
These are great features. I do love Word, but I’m not sure I’ve ever used it to its full potential. Automated features like Editor and Read Aloud do make my life much easier.
The recently announced Microsoft Teams Premium introduces AI-powered meetings. It will automatically take minutes, recommend actions and provide personalised highlights. It’s a bot presenting to individual humans. For example, each participant receives what the AI thinks are the most important points.
Which actually sounds quite useful. This is so frustrating – I want to shout, “DOWN WITH TECHNOLOGY!”, but then add “Not all of it, just the bits I don’t like…”.
So can we agree on a conclusion?
Technology and automation are transformational. They’ll replace tasks not people. The combination of human ingenuity and machine efficiency will outperform either one alone. Technology has the potential to solve some of our biggest issues today: overwork, stress, and burnout. My advice is to choose the right tool for the job whether that’s Post-It notes, a whiteboard, Excel, or a specialised software suite.
I agree. I must not get so emotional and recognise technology as the tool it is; an enabler and an enhancement to our human selves. We need an open mind. We must read and learn about technologies and benefits to make informed choices. BQ’s technology edition will be invaluable when it is released! *Shameless plug for BQ*. On the flip side, we can’t accept everything at face value because it is new and shiny.
Darrell and Pippa will keep debating. What they agree on is that change is constant and technology is evolving. Even if we don’t use the tools, we must recognise what is available, how others use them, and how we can use them to our advantage – or we’ll get left behind.
This article was written by Pippa Birch and Darrell Woodward.
Pippa has been a Bid Writer for 20 years, working as an employee for major companies within the Highways and Civil Engineering Sector before going freelance in 2012. Pippa and her team write for companies across a variety of sectors (construction, facilities management, custody and forensics) although core clients are from highways and civil engineering. Pipster Solutions has become a successful, sustainable business with over 40 clients.
Darrell Woodward is an award-winning consultant helping organisations unleash the full power of proposal automation to win more business faster. As a Bid Geek and coffee lover, he enjoys using coffee analogies to explain how technology enhances experiences and delivers efficiency. He believes bid professionals don’t find bidding easy, we just love how hard it is but we need to stop the relentless drive for more human productivity and encourage more humane productivity.