You’ve definitely heard of AI. Chances are you’ve worried about what it means for your career and for the bid and proposal industry as a whole. But AI doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, proposal professional Rebecca Link thinks it could be a groundbreaking opportunity for you to develop your skill, scale your success new heights, and be a part of a new, more exciting future for the industry.
Rebecca had a decade of proposals experience when she began traversing the AI space. Now, she brings that experience to an AI company dedicated to revolutionizing the way we do proposals. We sat down with Rebecca to get a bit more information about her journey, and to ask her your burning questions about AI and its current and future impact on the industry.
Before we get into AI, can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the bid and proposal industry?
I got started in bids and proposals just like everybody else – I fell into it! I live outside of Washington DC, where there’s a huge population of federal and military contractors, and I knew I wanted to get into that space. Of course, the question was: ‘Doing what?’ When I was finishing up my Masters, I was an Office Administrator and a Facility Security Officer and when solicitation came out, the entire office was jumping in to work on it. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I wanted to help! I saw this hustle that went into putting together a proposal to get it out the door and I found it so exciting.
So, I worked my way up from Proposal Writer to a Senior Proposal Writer, to a Proposal Manager and then a Proposal Director. I stumbled into this amazing career in bids and proposals!
What made you start to see the potential for AI in the industry?
AI has come into every industry. I saw it becoming a buzzword and being heavily talked about in the federal contracting space and at first, I’ll be honest, I didn’t love it. It was threatening; it was intimidating; it was scary because the capabilities are so vast. But I thought: “I’d better learn, because the train’s leaving the station and I’m either going to be on it or I’m going to be left behind!”
So, I started playing around with Chat GPT and seeing what that was all about. Then I took some online certification courses on Prompt Engineering and started training other proposal professionals in what I learned so that they could jump on the train too!
From there, I started getting approached by companies that have built proposal-specific or domain-aware AI tools to be used in the federal contracting space and was invited to demo and beta test these amazing tools. Now I’ve fully crossed over to the ‘dark side’ and work for an amazing tech company called Rohirrim, bringing my decade plus of proposal experience into the tech space to help them continue to refine their tools, train their customers, and be effective in this marketplace.
What are the benefits of incorporating AI into the bid and proposal industry?
A true proposal AI tool is not just for the proposal manager, it’s for the entire business development life cycle.
So, let’s say you go to an industry day and get information that you need to bring in-house. You can absolutely use AI to help organize that information, find metrics, and summarize reports. It’s a great collaboration tool as well, because once you input that information into the platform, then everybody on the growth team has access to that data and can manipulate it in different ways.
Keeping that in mind, we can keep using that tool through Capture and Solutioning, when you’re coming up with strengths, discriminators and themes; you’re identifying past performances; and you’re building approaches and methodologies, etc..
The most magic happens when we get to writing proposals. The Proposal Manager has the ability to start generating first-draft content and really get pen to paper in a very quick way instead of everybody kind of sitting and waiting for someone to crank out some first-cut thoughts on things. The time-savings that these tools are providing during this stage are game changers.
Lastly, if you get evaluation notices or any type of debrief information and you need to make changes to your proposal, you can feed into your model and prompt to have it summarize the info or update your proposal and also store it for you to reference later. It should also continue through delivery and execution of the program – the people performing or managing the contractual work can put in accolades and any metrics from the contracts into the tools, so you have a full picture of the whole life cycle of the contract if you win it. It really has capability for the full life cycle!
After using an AI tool, you’re not just going to hit “submit” on whatever the AI tool has created for you. You’re going to need teams of people to check compliance, qualify and verify the data, and capture the persuasive elements. The goal is to shave off a significant amount of time, especially on the front-end of proposal development and through submission.
What are some of the drawbacks or challenges with AI?
We need to be aware of what we’re inputting into AI tools. For example, if you go to ChatGPT and you type something in, it’s no longer yours. It now belongs to the ‘Internet of Things’ and it’s accessible and viewable by anything and everyone.
I think it’s important for people to understand the ethical and moral responsibility we have as users. Sometimes I feel like I talk out of both sides of my mouth about this. On one hand, I’m saying don’t be afraid of AI because we can leverage it for amazing things. But on the other hand, we also must make sure that we are taking the steps to secure information because there are risks.
We want to avoid a situation where somebody is working on a classified proposal, and they input classified information into unsecured AI models not realizing that data is now out in the open. Situations like that come from a lack of education and awareness about being an ethical user and what these tools are capable of.
So, how can we overcome those challenges?
Really, it’s all about prompting in the right way. I call it ‘PromptSmartTM’ because it really boils down to how you’re inputting within the tool. The input determines the output – garbage in, garbage out.
An example: I have two young children, and there are concerns with new apps and platforms such as ones with AI chatbots that children are befriending. A child might be asking risqué and inappropriate questions, and then the conversation switches as the AI matches what they’re putting in, and suddenly that child is in a very inappropriate back-and-forth dialogue.
It’s the same thing for us as adult users. We must learn how to input information or ask questions. It’s all about what you’re asking it to do, and that’s why I talk about prompting smart, because you can put a set of data into an AI model and then ask it to do a million different things with that data. I really recommend seeking information about prompting. APMP has a lot of offerings as far as their body of knowledge and webinars go, and you can also get online certifications for prompt engineering to make sure you know what to put in to be ethical and effective, as well as get the most high-quality output from AI.
What advice would you give to professionals who are starting to think about integrating AI into their work, but might be a bit tentative of it?
I think the first thing to acknowledge is the elephant in the room: I think people are afraid that AI is going to take their jobs. But if we’re going to use AI properly, there will always be the need for the human element. AI is amazing, but it can’t think critically, have empathy, or be persuasive in the same way we can. AI is an enhancement and an augmentation – it’s a tool in your toolbox, just like Microsoft Word or Google. In bids and proposals, there’s never going to be an “easy button” you can press and then it’s all perfect and done. The only way that we could legitimately fear for our job security is if we don’t learn how to embrace and use these tools, because they’re not going anywhere!
When you’re first getting started with AI, my number one recommendation is: go play! Clicking around on platforms like ChatGPT or asking to demo a tool available is great to break the ice. Obviously, don’t put any information on there that’s personal or classified, but play with it!
Ask Chat GPT to write a story with you by typing in a prompt like: “Let’s write a story together – I’ll provide the first sentence and then we’ll take turns adding one sentence until we’ve got a story!” You can ask it to debate with you, or perform tasks for you, or organize the thoughts in your head for you. For instance, I like to go to the gym, and I’ve asked Chat GPT to give me a weekly workout plan that focuses on specific muscle groups and got a great workout out of it!
Beyond that, attending informational sessions to learn what’s going on in the field is very valuable. It’s always evolving and changing, so It’s good to stay in step with all the information that’s being shared. We are all essentially building the car while we are driving it!
How do you see AI evolving in the bid and proposal industry going forward?
The short answer is I don’t know! I think the landscape is going to change a lot. There will be businesses and industries that adopt it faster depending on their size and service offering, but it’ll be adopted differently across the board. The government is also working to create security and best practices.
It’s important to remember that AI is not a new concept. It became a buzzword in 1950 when IBM came out with the first data processing computer that was able to process such a large amount of data. Then, it just kind of fizzled, and we had the ‘winter of AI’ between the 70s and 80s where there wasn’t a lot of innovation happening. But the human brain kept churning on these concepts, like we saw through the big screen with characters like Terminator and Data from Star Trek. Now, it’s just kind of exploded in the last 20-25 years- AI is already all around you.
It’s going to be exciting to see where it goes now. It has the capability to be incredibly helpful, but there are dark sides too and concerns that we’re going to have to get in front of.
If I could emphasize anything about AI, I would just say to remember to ‘prompt smart’, because that’s what will determine whether you’re using those tools in a helpful or harmful way.