Is technology a solution looking for a problem?
In the early 90s when I began my bidding career, developing a bid normally involved a group of people working together under the direction of a Bid Manager to agree a strategy, design a solution, make up a price, and then write it all down according to the tender instructions. Fast forward to 2023 and even with the advances in technology over the last 30 years, this still sounds a familiar way of doing things.
How does technology help bidding?
It seems as though the role of technology has thus far been as an enabler to take the heavy lifting off humans. But has it? Do people working on bids have more free time than before? Are they able to work on more bids? Are they able to produce better quality? Are they more likely to meet deadlines? Only you’ll know the answers to these questions, but it can be argued that technology has so far failed to deliver on all its promises.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then it begs the question why the use of technology hasn’t progressed beyond where it has. How many bid professionals still recognise a kick-off deck created in PowerPoint, a bid plan created in Excel, and a proposal written in Word, all saved in SharePoint and emailed using Outlook? I’m not criticising Microsoft 365, far from it, the point I’m making is that people rarely venture out of their technology comfort zones, especially when they’re under pressure.
Bid writers and technology
Unless you’re a one-stop-bidding-shop who can produce bids by yourself, then you’re going to be relying on a team of people to contribute. That’s where things get a bit
tricky. You’re at the mercy of people who are time-poor to give you high-scoring responses that align with your strategy, answer the question, influence the evaluator, and meet the page limits when you need them to.
Strategically important bids can hinge on one person delivering the goods on time. Bid Managers quickly learn the art of persuasion and diplomacy to extract information – any information, never mind whether it’s well written and remotely related to the bid they’re working on.
So, can technology help them? There are many software solutions aimed at the bidding market, but I wonder how effective they are in the hands of a subject matter expert (SME) at 1am. Could these specialist apps prevent them pulling an all-nighter in the first place? I’ve never known an SME not resort to their email/Word comfort zone in a time of crisis. In fact, I’ve met hundreds of deeply knowledgeable SMEs who can design complex IT solutions but can’t use Word beyond making characters appear on the screen. Give them a specialist bidding tool? Forget it.
AI and the future of bid writing
Maybe we’re looking at it the wrong way round. Instead of technology enabling people, what if technology just took over? Yes, you’ve guessed it, here comes AI. As a concept, AI might be as old as digital computing, but its time is very much of the moment. So, let’s indulge in a spot of ‘Tomorrow’s World’ for bidding.
Imagine a government ministerial department that procures highly regulated and nationally critical services. Contracts can be worth billions of pounds, and if something goes wrong, the Prime Minister and the press get to hear about it. Procurements can last years, cost millions of pounds and they still don’t guarantee successful outcomes. Check out the National Audit Office if you need convincing. Awarding these contracts still comes down to two teams of people on either side reaching an agreement. But what if it didn’t need to?
What if the department could use AI to constantly collect and analyse data in minute detail about how it functions financially and operationally – far more so than the people who work there ever could? AI could forecast what’s needed in the short, medium, and long term, and instantly procure those goods and services at the optimal
time from vetted suppliers. Rather than procurements taking months or even years, they would take fractions of that time with minimal human intervention (perhaps as an approver with the final say as part of ethical governance).
Using AI to develop bid specifications
In this scenario, AI would develop the specification of requirements using a vast array of data. It would determine what the department needs and what the market can offer, both now and in the future. It would know what the department can afford, what makes a competitive price, formulate a contract, evaluate and model risk, and decide which suppliers to approach (with suppliers also vetted by AI).
The ‘invitation to tender’ and ‘proposal’ would be machine-to-machine interactions, where suppliers receiving ‘invitations’ use AI to respond instantaneously with a compliant solution that’s modelled for risk and value over the contract term. Contracts could be signed instantly without protracted negotiations.
Now let’s add quantum computing to the mix. It’s hard to imagine where this will take society, but let’s stay with bidding for now! Using the scenario above, if AI can specify a requirement, and respond with a proposal, the speed and depth of the evaluation using quantum computing is hard to comprehend (for me anyway). A massively complex ten-year service involving multiple suppliers could be modelled for every and any scenario in seconds. What will fail and when? Where will costs rise and fall? When will delays be incurred? How will risk and opportunities play out? Remember that AI and quantum computing are already a reality.
Reimagine the art of the possible
I was about to write that all this seems far-fetched, and maybe it is, but when HM government spends £1,058.2 billion every year, perhaps using technology underpinned by standards to derive better and more assured outcomes in less time is not such a bad idea after all.
I’m going to avoid saying this can’t happen in case future generations mock me, but I do think we need to reimagine the art of the possible and, if you wish bidding was easier, be careful what you wish for.