They work on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. They work almost everywhere. So why not present short videos to present ideas to Department of Defense program managers and contracting officers? That’s the idea behind the year-old Tradewinds project, led by the DoD’s Chief Office of Digital and Artificial Intelligence. There is now a new development at Tradewinds. It’s about how to apply AI to contract drafting. To know more, THE Federal Driving with Tom Temin spoke with Tradewinds Head of Fulfillment Bonnie Evangelista.
Tom Temin And let’s talk about this year-long effort on videos, and just to have a progress report, how many videos have been submitted and what are you typically getting from the vendors and what types of products are they offering that way?
Bonnie Evangelista So, as you said, as of November 1st, we will be one year old. We’re somewhere in the range, and someone will probably slap me for not knowing my numbers off the top of my head. But we’re around 150+ videos in what we call the Tradewinds Solutions marketplace, but we’ve rated almost 400 videos. So you can kind of get a sense of the relationship between what goes in, what stays in, and what doesn’t go in. Aside from that, to me, this is one of the most interesting ways of trying to lower the barriers to entry for the industry. And rather than asking for technical proposals, even film sheets or white papers or if you’re familiar with quad graphics, we actually align with, I think, what the industry is used to on the business side, which is just a product pitch. . It’s very close to the venture capitalist narrative that if you’ve ever seen Shark Tank, it might not be so edgy and fast-paced, but we’re asking for the same things. What is your solution and what problem are you solving? It’s like the first minute of a shark tank pitch. And then we also want to know why, like how much are you solving my problem and what differentiates you in your market? Why are you innovative or unique or what do you do differently that maybe we should understand? I like this approach because it gets away from the whole, I don’t know, proposal writing industry. And that gives, I think, industry and more easily, particularly startups and small businesses, an easier mechanism to try to get into the front door of government.
Tom Temin And do you get the impression, through the videos, that people have done their homework because you have specific missions, that there are specific requirements that are developed by the armed forces, etc.? So they’re not just shooting in the dark with these.
Bonnie Evangelista RIGHT. And I think you get a sense of that when you see the relationship between what we get for the assessment and what actually remains, because a lot of people don’t do their homework. I think they assume it’s just like any other video pitch they might have done before. And as you said, we have very specific questions. So if you answer or answer questions, you won’t make it. It’s not so arbitrary that everyone can participate. But we have an established protocol that we’re asking the industry to pay attention to, and creating videos is now as easy as texting on your phone. You can use an app on your phone to do this. So it’s less about production quality and more about answering questions and convincing us that I’m going to use a cyber term to mean that you don’t sell vaporware.
Tom Temin Of course. Well, what happens if you say: wow, that’s really good? Again, not the production value, but the information in this video? What happens next whenever you want?
Bonnie Evangelista Congratulations, welcome, you are in the market. So what does this mean if you’re in the market? Because we’ve done, I would say, careful diligence to ensure that I call this our solicitation methodology and that our execution is aligned with the regulations and statutory requirements. Vendors currently in the market have undergone a competitive evaluation process for multiple authorities. And by checking that competition box, you now have a mechanism to receive or potentially obtain a government contract. So someone like me, a government practitioner supporting a government buyer, has the opportunity to deal directly with you for your solution, not just anything for your solution. This is a presentation of products and services, and we can do business directly with you on a competitive basis through the published process we just discussed. And essentially, if you’re determined to have technical merit against this process and the criteria that we’ve published, then here you go. And again, we have met competition standards for several authorities. So now we have the capacity to do business.
Tom Temin We speak with Bonnie Evangelista, Tradewinds Initiative Executor for the Department of Defense’s Chief Office of Digital and Artificial Intelligence. But ultimately, why this video? Why can’t they just call you on a Zoom chat? I mean, what’s the benefit of the short little video, other than it looks cool, like some sort of social media vernacular?
Bonnie Evangelista For us, it was not only the most modern means of communication at the moment, but it’s also easier to consume as a video consumer. From a government buyer’s perspective, there’s a small, easier hurdle to adoption that we don’t have to jump if we just tell people: Hey, just watch a five-minute video pitch or five or six of these video presentations rather than reading pages of technical proposals or other information that, again, might be less appealing to people.
Tom Temin And by the way, what are the production values? I mean, some of the big entrepreneurs have full-fledged broadcast studios. But I wonder if they have the common sense not to use them to try not to bore you, you know, with the production value.
Bonnie Evangelista Yes, I think we’ve seen quite a range. Honestly, when you open up, you see how creative people are. I’ve seen people film them, demoing a product like from a phone and overlaying text or other images to kind of show us what’s going on. And then I saw some really high quality videos that definitely look professionally produced. And honestly, as nice as it is, and of course, it’s up to the bidders’ discretion whether they like it, how did they want to present themselves within their means and so on. Ultimately, most of the feedback I get from people is really about the content, like, Oh, this solution may or may not fit my mission or whatever, and there’s less feedback about the quality of the production.
Tom Temin All right. And let’s get to the topic of artificial intelligence in contract drafting, because that’s a challenge within DoD, actually within government, because of the large number of clauses required in federal contracts. But not all of them are required in all contracts. On the other hand, if you leave out a crucial element, you can really have problems. And it’s been a very difficult time to develop commercial contract drafting systems, and there have been some spectacular failures. So tell us about AI in contract drafting and what are you doing there?
Bonnie Evangelista We have a prototype. We have now been prototyping this capability for almost 18 months, or two years. And honestly, it started as a proof of concept. We really had no idea what it would look like on the other side. So when I initially issued a challenge to show me something cool in AI and contract writing, and show me what the art of the possible is, most companies responded: I I will build what you want. And remember, I don’t know what I want. I wanted to get a sense of where we could maybe break some glass or push the boundaries. And since I’m not a techie, I was hoping to maybe take something that already exists and see if we could modify it. And there was one company, though, that had started to think about this problem, I would say, on the industry side that was writing the proposals. And they said, “We can show you what we’re doing and where the technology is going.” And so it all started, it was about nine months before OpenAI released ChatGPT and I had no idea what generative AI was. And my first introduction to this was 45 days into the project.
Bonnie Evangelista There was an MVP demo and they took a very descriptive title, like the title of a project, and that generated two paragraphs of text to help us define what the project problem statement might be. And that immediately got us thinking about how to immediately adopt this type of capability into our business workflow, where we work with customers to define what their gaps or mission needs are. Because my team in particular leverages authority not based on power, like other transactional realities. This is usually where we don’t define requirements, but rather define problems so that industry can provide us with solutions. So the technology part of generative AI really helps us increase velocity in our teams because it kind of streamlines and improves our ability to articulate and create language around something that we need more insight into. clarity. Because a lot of times, even when we’re working with our clients, having a blank sheet of paper and saying, tell us what your problem is, can be a little scary or a little intimidating. And the fact that generative AI acts as a junior writing assistant and makes a better guess based on human input, what we’re looking for and then continues to refine it has greatly increased our ability to reduce, I would say, these delivery times, like us, to publish something that the industry would consume on the solicitation side. So, I’m not kidding, I was able to undertake a process that could take weeks or months with the right people in the room, like this tool and we edit together in real time. We can do it in 30 minutes and come up with a problem statement. Then the tool also helps us generate structured text on the back end so we can publish ads very, very quickly.
Tom Temin It is therefore much more than just drafting a contract. Technically, it appears to be more of a meeting of the minds agreement type app.
Bonnie Evangelista Absolutely. I will say that’s where we started. Because once I saw what he was capable of, I said: I can use him today to do this. And now we’re trying to figure out where else can we leverage and optimize what’s going on here in contract drafting. So that’s kind of the exploration and the journey that we’re taking right now.
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