Experience, expertise and evidence: what makes a successful ASDEFCON proposal?

Designed to standardise and benchmark business procedures, each Australian Standard for Defence Contracting (ASDEFCON) template is tailored for a specific procurement need and profile. Differing on size, complexity and nature of procurement activity, creating a successful response is no easy feat.

The Morrison Government’s response to COVID-19 economic struggles has resulted in a $270 billion investment into the Australian Defence Force. A comprehensive review of Defence procurement has followed. Currently, Defence is conducting a review of the ASDEFCON suite of tendering and contracting templates and relevant Defence procurement processes and practices to identify improvement opportunities.

While the ASDEFCON suite of tendering and contracting templates have been continually updated since their release in 2002, Defence is conducting this latest survey and review to ensure that they remain relevant, contemporary and represent best practice.

The existing practices have been perceived as a barrier for many Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with the complexity of the ASDEFCON templates requiring significant time and effort to respond.

By simplifying and streamlining these templates, the effort required from industry to respond will hopefully be reduced. Industry will be able to spend more time outlining their advantages, opposed to “answering” the mail on lengthy tender requirements. This will benefit Australian SMEs who can greater articulate how their goods and services will fit the response and assist prime contractors including Australian SMEs into their solutions.

What determines a successful submission?

As the procurement process undergoes review, it’s important to re-evaluate what makes a successful submission. The team at Systematiq, a consulting firm specialising in Defence procurement and project delivery, know that experience, expertise and evidence are at the core of a winning response.How do these broad terms break down into practical tips?

Ensuring a thorough understanding of the criteria and requirements

Understanding the criteria and requirements may sound simple, but it is a common mistake. ASDEFCON tenders can appear more complex than they are to the uninitiated. Working with an experienced Bid Manager can enable a first-time bidder or SME to better understand the criteria and craft an answer that will be understood by the Commonwealth.

Systematiq Director of Business Development Brydon Johnson said, “Most companies approach the tender thinking that they will use internal resources, who have never worked on a large ASDEFCON tender before, to undertake an important response for the first time.

“It puts a lot of pressure on internal resources as many people have to learn how the template is structured and some are writing a tender response for the first time. It also affects business-as-usual as most internal people have a day job that has to be done on top of responding to the tender.”

One approach often adopted by those who have success with Defence tendering is to use a dedicated team that has both internal resources that know the solution, mixed with experienced proposal writers to respond to the tender and understand what the Government requirements are.

By way of example, Systematiq were engaged by Elbit Systems Australia to assist with responding to an ASDEFCON tender in the land domain. The team comprised of internal resources from Elbit that knew the solution, paired with experienced bid writers from Systematiq to help put together the tender response. This approach ensured that there was sufficient capacity and capability, matching internal resources and dedicated writing support to execute a compliant tender response.

Iain Watt, former Elbit Systems Bid Director for Team Sentinal (now with EOS), LAND 400 phase 2 commented: “I was really impressed by how quickly Systematiq settled into the team and came up to speed with what needed to be done.

“You established credibility quickly, and your advice was highly regarded by the wider team.”

Another common mistake made in responding to tenders is an SME thinking they can offer a better solution than the client has requested at the tender submission stage, rather than providing this earlier on in the process, prior to the tender being released. Don’t underestimate the value of submitting an unsolicited proposal or an RFI to inform the Commonwealth of your capability.

Systematiq Project Manager Peter Weir suggests that to maximise your chance of success, you should respond to the outlined requirements first, then offer additional options. The Commonwealth may at that point be more open to an alternative approach.

A tender submitted by a Systematiq client offered the Commonwealth an innovative solution for a new fuel management system. Unfortunately, the procurement process included an initial submission prior to the tender release, to which the client didn’t respond. The Commonwealth had already developed their procurement strategy internally based on other intial proposals so the client wasn’t successful, even though their submission was fully compliant.

Pre-Contract Services Manager Helen Barry adds to this point – “Answer the question then ask ‘What else can we offer and what will the benefit or outcome be for the client?’”

A compelling solution supported by strong evidence and resources

Aside from having a strong comprehension of the requirements, providing an attractive solution supported by evidence is an important aspect when crafting a tender response.

Many proposals aren’t successful because they don’t provide evidence that supports the claims made in the response. These can be rejected due to the inclusion of generic statements. It is important to reiterate throughout the document reasons why the Commonwealth should award the tender to you, above others.

Ms Barry says a successful submission will have “a compelling argument for choosing that business. The argument needs to be woven into every document, needs to be consistent, and supported with evidence such as resourcing, modelling, previous projects and case studies.”

Another mistake is not referencing existing internal procedures or systems that confirm your ability to deliver. Mr Weir recommends outlining these points in your response as well as how you will reduce any perceived risk from the Commonwealth in delivering the project.

Preparation is key.

The benefit of the ASDEFCON template is that the Commonwealth have made it easy for companies to do preparation prior to the release of any market solicitation, be it an Invitation to Register, Request for Proposal or full Tender. Making sure you’ve done your preparation is as simple as looking at what the Tender Requirements look like prior to the RFT being released and having a plan on what parts of the business need to respond to what elements.

“So much can be done prior to the Response for Tender (RFT) release, but we see many companies that wait for the bid to drop, before they start working on the response.” said Mr Johnson.

A great way to kickstart your preparation is to start with the easier sections like your past performance. It also helps the tender team gain an understanding of what is being offered and your unique value proposition so that these themes can be integrated into these sections.

Mr Weir also acknowledges this: “If you haven’t started on your solution and understand what is likely to be in the RFT prior to release [then] you are possibly too late.”

Clear and engaging documentation

Lastly, an RFT needs to be easy to understand and consistent.

For any open tender, an evaluator is under pressure to read, assess and report on numerous similar responses from multiple tenderers. Ensuring your solution is immediately evident as well as crafting a submission in the same order or structure of the questions will enable your response to stand out and be easy to read and evaluate.

Ms Barry states, “Formulas and templates will only get you so far – you need to be flexible and to understand the whole bid so every document sings from the same hymn sheet.”

Maintaining consistency is essential as the ASDEFCON template results in material crossing over different response volumes. A response should have a common picture of what the solution entails, how it will be delivered and articulates your particular value proposition.

Mr Johnson offers valuable insight on this core aspect.

“What isn’t always understood is that different sections (known as volumes) of an ASDEFCON submission are reviewed by different teams in isolation. Make sure the responses are consistent and you don’t make statements in one section that undermine your position in another.”

Mr Johnson also says a well written executive summary included in each response volume will ensure an evaluator understands your value proposition and will be able to see an overall view of your submission quickly and clearly. It is an opportunity to summarise your win themes and illustrate your unique solution.

A desire and drive for success

Ultimately, the secret to a successful ASDEFCON submission is a great support team behind it. As Mr Weir put it, the team at Systematiq are “professionals that want to drive success for our clients and will go that extra mile to make it happen.” 

Learn more about Systematiq to work with a team that has the desire to drive you forward to make your submission a success.