Podcast - The Xait Factor episode 8 is out!

Podcast - The Xait Factor episode 8 is out!

Trine Lise Gjelstad
30. Apr 2021 | 23 min read

Podcast - The Xait Factor episode 8 is out!

 Dr. Idara Umoh, CP APMP discusses the factors that feed successful bids and proposals. Idara is Bid Director at The Sidylle Group, a bid writing and proposals consultancy where she is focused on improving bid management processes and helping businesses write winning responses.

Idara has a wealth of experience; she spent 17 years with companies like Weatherford, GE Oil and Gas, and DOF Subsea preparing and winning tenders within the UK, Middle East, Asia, Africa, Australia. Her experience covers the Oil and Gas sector, Construction, Infrastructure, and much more.

She is a recipient of the Association of Proposals Management Professionals 40 under 40 award, and was named a finalist in the Energy Woman of the Year category at the prestigious Middle East Energy Awards in 2019. She earned her PhD from Robert Gordon University in Scotland.

 

Listen to the podcast directly here: The Xait Factor or listen on Spotify
Host, Kevin Craine Brought to you by Xait.

About The Xait Factor

Welcome to The Xait Factor! This is the show that explores the future of collaboration, today...and how coauthoring and team collaboration are essential skills for every 21st century enterprise.

 

Would you like to read the interview instead?

Below is a direct transcription of the episode, errors might occur and we encourage you to listen to the episode for the full Xait Factor experience.

 

Kevin Craine
Welcome back to The Xait factor. I'm Kevin Craine coming to you for Xaite and our guest today is Dr. Idara Umoh. Idara is currently the bid director at The Sidylle Group, a modern day bid writing and proposals consultancy where she's focused on improving bid management processes and helping businesses write winning responses to win new business and more contracts. Before that she spent 17 years with companies like Weatherford and GE Oil and Gas, and DOF Subsea at a director level preparing and winning tenders within the UK, the Middle East Asia, Africa, Australia.

Her experience covers a wide range of sectors including oil and gas, construction, infrastructure, health and well being and more. She is the recipient of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals "40 under 40" award and was named a finalist in the "Energy Woman of the Year" category at the prestigious Middle East Energy Awards in 2019. She earned her PhD from the Robert Gordon University in Scotland and joins us to talk more about the proposal and bid process. That's quite a resume, and I'm sure it only touches the surface Idara from your experience over the years, how has the proposal and tender process evolved?

Dr. Idara Umoh 
A lot of it has been from the automation side of things. So when I started off doing proposals, it was more paperwork. And you know, everyone had to use Word and it was more passing around pieces of paper and reviewing documents, printed documents, and so on. So things have really changed. And like I said, it's more cloud-based now, people collaborate from different parts of the world a lot easier. Which is really good I mean, the worlds all gone global. You have people sitting in different locations, and they're working on tenders for you know locations 1000s of miles away, and so on. So it's a really positive change for the industry. And just moving from(...) - I mean, it might sound little but it's a major change for someone like me who's done that work, moving from people work to cloud-based work is a huge difference for even the companies as well.

Kevin Craine 
Honestly I can't imagine doing the process in the old days, if you will, on a completely paper process. But today, what are some key attributes, or some key capabilities that you feel are really a must have today for being successful?

Dr. Idara Umoh
Have your systems correct. Half of the time you find companies bidding for work and they haven't got say certifications together, they haven't got themselves registered with the key bodies, they haven't even got the the services or the products to provide. So get ready as a business and as a proposals professional. The key is to be ready, be ready for the tender opportunity in terms of, you know, going ahead to do your BD work and speak to the businesses and get as much info as you can, before even the tender is released. And even in terms of getting all your documentation right, getting your bid processes in place, the bid content in place, and so on is absolutely necessary before going into any bidding activity or anything like that.

Kevin Craine
So you need to have your 'ducks in a row' before you even launch is what you're saying?

Dr. Idara Umoh
You should, it puts you several steps ahead of even the competition. For instance, before the bids even released or before the ITT comes to your desk, if someone's already gone and prepped and found out what the client needs, and knows what they're going to focus on it makes a huge difference. Because you're receiving this ITT you already know what to expect, not completely but you have an idea. And then you can easily say you have this unit subcontracting with somebody else, you can prep yourself before all of this arrives. It just makes the process a lot smoother for everyone.

Kevin Craine
How much of the content or the data that you use to win a proposal like this is something that you've already invented? Are you able to reuse content over and over again, or is each engagement unique?

Dr. Idara Umoh
We'll always say every new opportunity should be unique in terms of the response. But then I'm a big promoter of having a big content library. I see that if you have standard content put in(...) - I'm also a big fan of cloud-based system and to have your basics. So you have your QHSE information together, you have your basic standard and cover letters, even executive summaries and so on. And you have all of this content in your big content library, even your technical specifications, have everything in your big content library. Now, when you're ITT comes in it has to be unique because everyone's different, even when it comes from the same client it is different. And then it's a lot easier for you to then go to your big content library, tweak your response to match what the question is in your new ITT. So always make it unique, always make it targeted, where you can save yourself a lot of time, if you have something already in place then you could use an update in your new response.

Kevin Craine
Well, that makes sense to me and getting back to your first response today was that you need to be prepared. So it seems to me that perhaps you're prepared in two ways one is really prepared on the process side. So you know that you've got good content, where it is, how to use it and leverage it, and have content that is meaningful. Then also a unique perspective or an intimate perspective with that particular engagement, and ensuring that you're addressing that specific opportunity and leveraging the content in a way that is a blend of those two accusations, if you will.

Are there some techniques that work well, in some specific industries? Or maybe in some regions? And perhaps not so well, in others?

Dr. Idara Umoh
Yes, I mean, obviously because I've worked in so many places I've seen, bids, proposals tenders done so differently. In some industries for instance, I'm not going to be really specific about location industry, but you find that there's a strict limitation on what counts. In the oil and gas industry for instance we have 1000 and 1000s of pages of response that we send back to the client. In some other industries you can have a word limit of 400 to 700 words, now you need to make sure that, you use those 400 words wisely. So response is targeted, is what they're asking for. You have to be straight to the point "whish-whash" boom on the word count. So that restriction kind of makes you hone in all the ideas you have in your head, and you just try to make it really strategic. The only thing I've found as well is in locations outside the UK, the Middle East in one particular location, you need to have more of a relationship. So we could get away with things here in terms of responses come out. We bid and we know tha if we meet all the requirements and everything, we should be okay to go through. But I found that in some other locations, it's really important for you to have the relationship going with the client. Not relationship in the sense that they can make orders to get an advantage I think it will also be a fair process. But then it makes it easier for you to know how to approach the response. And that way obviously gives you leverage in terms of standing the better chance to win and so on. I've also found out that in some locations, as well, there is more of tender meetings. There's more tender clarification meetings in terms of before the response is submitted, you get a chance to come in and ask questions, and so on. And that's all the bidders. So it happens more in some locations, than the other locations and so on. I mean there's loads I can point out, in some locations I found as well because I'm British, I can't respond to an ITT from a particular country. Due to the political situation and so on. Just because of your nationality, you can't touch that tender response. There's lots of differences of this, and I guess that's what builds up the experience, isn't it? Just being able to know and being able to manage each of these differences.

Kevin Craine
Over the last 18 months or so, how has the Covid-19 pandemic influenced or impacted this process for professionals like you?

Dr. Idara Umoh
It's driven a lot more companies to cloud-based systems. Companies have now found that passing people/walking around the office doesn't really work when you can't see each other. It's really funny because the key before, they would say: It's really key that you're all in the same office, you're close to the technical person, you can pass them and check and reply(...)Covid-19 happened. And then one had to think about how to re-strategize and so on. Some companies were already ahead, and some weren't. So some had to be thinking, obviously to get more on these cloud-based systems and use those just to get the best out of it, because the bidding didn't stop due to the pandemic. There's been a lot readjustments in the industry, and it's really positive for those of us working in industry as well, because it can be a nightmare sometimes just trying to chase people around. But if you send them a link, or say they get a notification saying you need to go and review this by so and so deadline, it makes it a lot easier for everyone really.

Kevin Craine
So what I'm hearing you say perhaps, is that there have been some advantages or some improvements as a result?

Dr. Idara Umoh
Yes, correct and that's not so bad. I think probably for the companies that can't reallt afford going on the systems, yes, it could be a disadvantage. But I think for companies that can, it has been an advantage in the sense that they've had to rethink what they do with the processes that they have in place, if it really works. And even apart from the processes as well, most companies have had to reduce the number of staff. It's made them think more about; do we need all these steps in the process? Is this something that we could get rid of? This gets things out the door quicker, and so on. I mean, I've had to help companies look at how their process works, or doesn't work. When you see that a lot of steps that are in there is really not important or not required. In that sense. So yes, so it's been two ways.

Kevin Craine
Do you think we'll ever go back to the old way? I mean, will people really return to the office in the same ways that they were before?

Dr. Idara Umoh
I think they will, I think (...) normally there is always a resistance to change. I think for some it works for some it doesn't. For those who don't like being away from other people or not having that social environment in the office space, they will return back to the normal way of things. Well, what I think will happen or what we will see is an improvement in the way things work. Even if it is so that we turn back to the office, there will be a change in in the processes. There'll be more reliance on you know, systems like like Xait for instance and so on. So, yes back to the office, but with some tweaks.

Kevin Craine
Idara, do you feel that having a specifically designed proposal software solution, something like XaitPorter, do you believe that that can provide an advantage and if so how?

Dr. Idara Umoh
The advantages are enormous! I've used XaitPorter since about five years ago, I cannot even explain the advantages versus not having anything like that. First of all is collaboration. Especially if you're working in a global company, you just cannot do without having a system like XaitPorter because it's just the ease of working with other people. If you have worked (...) and your writing here in Aberdeen for instance, and someone needs to review in Russia, rather than the back and forth emails you just assign things to them on the system. E.g. you give them deadlines, they go in review, make comments, you can detail and then when everyone's happy, you can lock the document and it makes collaboration so easy. And between members of of a particular group attending group and in terms of content management as well. You know, you can have all your content there you can have everyone have a look, review, approve. And for me that's you know, a system like excited is perfect for big content, like Libraries because, you know, festival, you can see the versions of all of the of the content is an access to it. So it's not like you're having something on an award based system and so on. So, I mean, I've written separately about the advantages of having systems and believer of the advantages of having the system in place.

Kevin Craine
Collaboration seems to me to be the new advantage. I mean, how you collaborate and how well your teams are able to do that, especially today seems to be the competitive advantage of 2021 and beyond. Idara, what was the biggest deal or the most challenging engagement that you've ever worked on? And what made the difference?

Dr. Idara Umoh
Well, I have two that come to mind. But I'll mention this too briefly. And then I'll go on to the one that's not the highest value, but for me, meant a lot.

So there was one in Russia, that was a couple of years ago, and obviously Russia for different reasons, the fact that the business that I worked for at the time had never done work in Russia. Did never want any work with this operator at all. So it was the first time, and this is where I saw the benefits of Xait actually, because we were able to stay here in Aberdeen and provide an extremely comprehensive bid response, to this guy who'd never worked with us before, different locations we've never worked for, and worked in before and so on. And we won, and this was millions, and the reason why I mentioned Xait, is because we actually had the feedback from the client. The client mentioned the quality and the standard of content, which I just don't see how that would have been possible without having, you know a system like XaitPorter. Even like, bring up collaboration again, that obviously can be really handy being able to communicate with colleagues in a different continent, and so on. And be one, which was really awesome.

And the second one that stands out was in 2019, it was a multi discipline tender. I personally remember that one, because it took hours in the end trying to look through the 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of pages of documents. And we had to submit and obviously, with multisegment tenders as well, you're trying to get one single document. So it was really tough and we won. Those are key ones, I've done 1000s of tenders, which has a really significant win rate, but the ones that really stood on my mind are the ones that really take the most out to me in terms of time, and you know the fact that I know we need to win this. It's different from everything else that we've done, and so on. So those are the two, but then the one I was going to mention as well is the the one I managed to get a client or manage, I did get a client on to our framework agreements. And why this is really important to me is obviously I've come from the oil and gas industry, mostly construction, and so on. And then started off my own business, doing bid writing and bid management, etc. So it was different from everything else that I've done. So for me, it was critical for me to get the clients on for myself, as well as obviously, for the clients. And the way I approach every tendant I work on is that I must win. And there's no room for any loss at all. And even worse, there's no room for disqualification at all. So for me, it was a personal win. Because, you know, sometimes you tend to maybe doubt yourself, and especially if you've been in one industry for so long, and then you've got to then prove yourself, it's just so rewarding for you know, personally, and also for the client, obviously, so that was massive for me.

Kevin Craine
Our guest today is Dr. Idara Umoh. She is the bid director at The Sidylle Group. Now, if you could have a magic wand and design a system or a scenario, that would be your ultimate environment for success, what would it look like and what capabilities would you have?

Dr. Idara Umoh
One thing that I've found, and I've worked in quite a few companies previously, is that other members of the team don't quite get what we do in proposals. Okay, so they know that there's this team, that we're tendesees surrounded by what everyone does. So if we don't win work it affects everyone's salaries, even the company's existence and so on. So it would be more educating members of the team. So when we did the bid trainings, the focus is always on the bid staff and then the bid team, but people need to be sensitized within the business to understand, what these guys do has a direct impact on the business, on the finances of the business and so on. And in that way, they would support the BT(Bid Team) more. Because when you go to them as a proposal, so a Bid person and you say: "Oh, I'm looking for so and so document and say, Oh, no, no, this is not my day job, but I'll help you, blah, blah." But is critical for us to have this information in order for us to submit the bid. In order for us to win work, you're not really doing us a favor, per se. So back to your question. If I had a magic wand, it will be everyone in the business is sensitized. They'de know the advantages of having a business that they need to write many bids, so they have an automated system, or cloud based system they can use. So it's easier for them to coollaborate and so on. And a content is already in the peer reviewed and approved in a library. Everything is organized. And with every ITT or RFP that's received, this is what we have. Okay, this is how we're going to, you know, reject the response. And if you haven't got this, we need to write it from scratch, and so on. It just puts us several steps ahead of everyone else. And it makes things quicker as well.

Kevin Craine 21:14
Idara, it's been great speaking with you today, we're almost out of time. But before I let you go, one last question. What should other proposal management professionals be thinking about? And strategizing for today, in order to be prepared for the world in five years time?

Dr. Idara Umoh
The worlds changing so much, isn't it? And I believe, you should always change along - change in a sense or improve yourself. So rather than: "Yes it's nice to be a bid advisor or a bid management" But what's your next? What else? What other skill sets are you adding to what you're doing at the moment? So for me, that's why I would say: Get an additional skill set. If you know how to write bids, or bid management, maybe improve the contract side of things as well, maybe improve the tech side of things, if you're that inclined, just explore other options. It's always a benefit. So I mean, the bid process is quite, extensive isn't it? So it's not just bid writing says other parts of the bid management process before you even get to bid writing. So explore what are the options you use them, because who knows, in the next few years?I mean, the new system is coming up now with you know, a fancy AI technology that could scan out bids and take out responses and so on. And things are constantly improving. So if tech is improving, improve yourself.

Kevin Craine
That is Idara Umoh, bid director at The Sidylle Group. Idara, thank you so much for being our guest today on The Xait factor.

Dr. Idara Umoh
Thank you for having me. I've had a really lovely time.

Trine Lise Gjelstad

Trine Lise Gjelstad

Trine Lise is the Digital Marketing Specialist of Xait. She is responsible for elevating Xait`s presence in all marketing surfaces. She has experience from a hybrid agency and a definitive passion for technology! Trine Lise is also a market manager for a popular food festival in Stavanger, and was nominated for a local culture award last year. Her goal is to always convey good stories and create engaging content. When not at work you will find her either front row at a concert or hiking in the mountains.

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