Computer-aided proposal preparation
an example of systems integration
Businesses that rely on proposals as an integral part of their marketing effort face many challenges. When they need to produce more (and larger) proposals to take advantage of increased business opportunities, they find the process inordinately expensive.
They also find the proposal process slow, another constraint on the number of opportunities that can be addressed. High cost and lengthy preparation time have the further disadvantage of reducing flexibility in trying to take advantage of new opportunities on short notice.
In effect, the proposal can negatively affect a business if it is not mastered.
A New Approach
At Grumman Data Systems (GDS), a major information systems integrator, preparing more proposals for larger and larger programs was limited by the cost and time of manual and semi-automated preparation and publishing methods.
Unwilling to accept this limitation in a period of significant growth, the company decided to upgrade the proposal preparation process from input through publication by means of an integrated network covering all company offices across the nation that regularly participate in proposals.
The Proposal Center Information Management System (PCIMS) enhances competitiveness by allowing the automated production of three times more proposals than in the past, at a 20% faster rate, using 20% less labor. It also improves proposal quality by expanding input time and ensuring uniformity.
Now, up to five major proposals may be in production at the same time, without putting strain on the people and facilities employed in the process. The result is that GDS is able to bid on more projects, some on much shorter notice than in the past, and to do it at a lower cost.
Rather than a roadblock, proposals have become GDS’s open path to increased growth with the help of PCIMS.
Major Systems Developer
GDS designs, develops, installs and supports large-scale information systems for government and private industry. The company is also the prime systems integrator for other divisions of GDS’s parent, Grumman Corporation, a leading aerospace and electronics manufacturer.
In the mid-1980s, Grumman bid and proposed on systems integration programs in the $50-$100 million range. Successful performance on the contracts won began to lead to much larger opportunities.
Within a few years, the size of pro grams on which the company bid was in the range of $50-$200 million. These larger programs required much larger proposals, often running from 300-500 pages (on the “smaller” side) and up to 2,000 pages.
More opportunities were opening up as well, as customers replaced older systems. The new systems described in Requests for Proposals (RFPs) contained requirements for the latest computer technology.
Prior to PCIMS, Grumman was limited to the production of three or four major proposals a year (plus many smaller proposals up to 1,000 pages each) because each required months of development and preparation, and the existing word processing/production system allowed simultaneous preparation of only two major proposals.
This existing rapacity did not satisfy the need to bid on more and larger programs without sharply increasing costs.
What Was Needed
The majority of the input for GDS proposals is provided by personnel in the company’s Woodbury, Bethpage and Calverton, NY offices, as well as personnel in regional offices in McLean, VA; Huntsville, AL; San Diego, CA: and Charlerston, SC.
In the past, key personnel from these offices traveled to GDS’s Proposal Center in Woodbury to provide their input onsite, using a Xerox system for word processing. This system also provided some publishing capabilities.
Input was prepared in semi-automated fashion, entering handwritten responses to RFP requirements into the word processors. This presented a time roadblock because minimum word processing turnaround was one day.
Figure 1. Schematic Flow of PCIMS.
Each author had to wait at least a day before hardcopy was available for review and initial editing. When major revisions were made, word processing could hardly keep up with the need.
Proposal editors manually integrated information from multiple machines and databases, illustrations were prepared manually, and the final document was assembled by the triedand- true method of cut-and-paste. The final product was published in 15-35 photocopies (Fig. 1).
The materials used in preparing each proposal were archived in paper form in files that were bursting at the seams and taking up valuable space.
In place of these methods, GDS wanted computer input of text and graphics from local and remote sites, eliminating the need to travel to the Proposal Center; editing and assembly of the final document on workstations: and computer output that could serve as the master copy for reproduction.
The computer system envisioned would have to manage multiple files; manage document revision and approval in a timely manner; support both sharing and archiving of information; provide distributed processing capabilities so that the text and graphics from engineers across the country could be incorporated easily; and back-up files centrally.
The new system would have to support an easy and seamless growth as the organization’s needs grew. These requirements and more are met by PCIMS.
PCIMS (pronounced P-cims), tracks proposal development from initial customer contacts through planning, document creation and production. It supports input and editing of text and graphics on workstations and produces high-quality documents by means of electronic publishing.
The system also monitors and controls local and remote authors, reviewers, managers and publishing personnel through an administrative subsystem. System use is menu-driven and users have access on the basis of IDs which allow entry into relevant subsystems.
GDS created the data model for PCIMS by analyzing users and system requirements and organizing them with Nijssen’s Information Analysis Method. From this the company created the databases and wrote 100,000 lines of interface code. The system, resident in Woodbury, contains local area networks (LANs) and a wide area network (WAN) for PCIMS remote sites (Fig. 2).
There are five hardware/software subsystems in PCIMS—entry, document management, publishing, communications and administrative, all of which make use of readily available hardware and off-the-shelf software. Grumman-written custom code provides the glue which ties the subsystems together.
Hardware in the entry subsystem includes 53 workstations (50 PCs and three MAC IIs), an image and OCR scanner, and seven laser printers, on an ETHERNET LAN. Software is provided for word processing, spreadsheets and graphics.
Hardware in the document management subsystem includes a DEC VAX6430 file server, EMULEX-RA 81 and EMULEXXMD III, TU8l, and a file conversion service. The VMS operating environment provides routing for electronic mail using DECNET. A DEC RDB relational database stores proposal information for document management tasks.
The publishing hardware consists of four VAX station 3200s connected to the VAX 6430 in a local area VAX cluster. Printing is supported by two highspeed laser printers. The publishing software includes INTERLEAF and MAC graphics packages (MACDRAW, MACPAINT, ADOBE ILLUSTRATOR).
The communications hardware includes ETHERNET, FASTPATH, DEC and third-party multi-port repeaters, bridges, terminal servers, and VITALINK-TRANSLAN. The communications software includes RAF, DECNET, ALISATALK and LAT.
Figure 2. Network Support for PCIMS
The databases contain files for graphics, text, status and bulletin board, RFP reference documents, standards and boilerplate. Plans for connection to a remote archival library are underway. System back-up is conducted nightly via a remote link to a Grumman computer support center in Holtsville, NY.
PCIMS in Action
Author’s entries are through the PCs and MAC workstations. The reviewing process is also terminal-based. After final text and graphics are approved, the proposal document is moved on to composition and reproduction. The complete process is illustrated in Fig. 3.
PCIMS’ menu-driven applications are protected by automatic servicetype screening based on the user’s sign-on ID. After initializing PCIMS, the main menu appears with the subsystems as menu options (Fig. 4).
The administrative support function contained in the menu is for use by proposal management in tracking proposal status.
The document management function is an aid to Proposal Center managers and their staff in producing the document and monitoring its progress. The document production function is for the members of the document team who write and edit the document.
LAN - local area network.
WAN - wide area network.
Image and OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
Scanner - converts hardcopy graphics and text to digital form.
File Server- centralized repository for data files in a LAN.
File Conversion Service - converts proprietary word processing files from one type to another, or to ASCII. Relational Database - a flexible database that operates on the basis of categories of information rather than separate files.
VMS (Virtual Memory System) Operating Environment - Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) proprietary operating system for their VAX computers.
EMULEX-RA 81 -456 Mbyte disk drive.
EMULEX-XMD III -1.3 Gbyte disk drive.
TU (Tape Unit) 81- magnetic tape drive.
DECNET - DEC proprietary WAN protocol.
ETHERNET - LAN hardware protocol.
FASTPATH - LAN router; connects Macintosh machines to Ethernet LANs.
ALISATALK - software which integrates Macintosh machines with VAX machines.
LA (Local Area) VAX Cluster - multiple VAX machines on an Ethernet LAN that share disk drives, processing power, and print facilities.
VITALINK-TRANSIAN - network bridge; connects distributed Ethernet LANS over high speed telephone lines. LAT (Local Area Transport) - DEC proprietary software protocol for a terminal emulation that interconnects a terminal to a network.
RAF (Remote Access Facility) - Datability Inc.’s proprietary protocol to integrate PCs to VAX machines on an Ethernet LAN.
Figure 3. PCIMS Configuration
A text entry function assures that only the author, manager, Proposal Center manager or editor of a given section of a proposal are able to enter or edit text for that section.
The publishing menu is for the Proposal Center supervisor, in making and monitoring word processing assignments. The system administrative support menu helps the operations and engineering personnel maintain the entire process.
A select document function key allows users to work on more than one proposal at a time by changing the document context. For example, the user may be working on PROP2. Pressing the key will bring up the menu for PROP3, and so on, according to the number of proposals being prepared simultaneously.
Proposal production begins with scanning an RFP document directly into the system’s word processor. There the proposal is divided into sections which the proposal administrator apportions to the responsible individuals.
Authors at on-site and remote locations use the PC of their choice and the word processing software they are familiar with to write their sections of the proposal. Graphics are produced by the authors on their PCs or MAC workstations.
The word processor output is converted via the file conversion service to a format used by INTERLEAF’s technical publishing software.
The INTERLEAF software is then used by the Proposal Center to assemble the final document, incorporating text from a number of different PCs and word processing systems, data from multiple databases, and graphics from the INTERLEAF, Macintosh or PC environments.
Figure 4. Main menu of PCIMS
Capacity and Growth
Use of PCIMS has eliminated travel time and related expenses (of up to $100,000/proposal) for GDS engineers and managers headquartered at sites remote from the Proposal Center.
In use, the system provides three times more capacity and a 200% reduction in time and labor. These features add up to a significant increase in preparation speed (and lower costs), allowing GDS to respond to multiple RFPs within 30-, 60-,90-day time-constaints.
Closer supervision of the process by on-line administrators has improved the uniformity and accuracy of the proposals and has also contributed to speed by allowing timely intervention at any stage of preparation. (It is easier to correct a problem earlier than later.)
Assembling the find document for publishing no longer requires inefficient cut-and-paste methods for combining text and graphics.
The multiple-proposal capability of PCIMS is allowing authors to work on more major proposals at one time (as many as 15 proposals a year).
According to Gerald Smaller, Senior Vice President of Information Systems at GDS, projected company growth in the 1990s will rely on PCIMS capabilities but will still not tax its capacity. Open architecture will allow system growth when that becomes necessary.
PCIMS gives GDS the capability to prepare more and larger proposals with less cost than manual or semi-automated methods. It has the capacity, speed, accuracy and low costs to meet the company’s proposal needs far into the future.
Robert Blankenhorn is a Systems Designer at Grumman Data Systems He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering. He worked as a software designer and electrical engineer prior to joining Grumman.