VisibleThread – Language Analysis Platform

Automating gap analysis across complex documents

Not every opportunity that seems right for your business is a good fit. If you’re bidding for government contracts, you’ll know that requests for proposal (RFPs) are lengthy and complex documents. With thousands of RFPs published annually, how can you keep up, optimize your resources, and protect your team from burnout? A useful tool is the gap analysis.
5 min read

Claire Whelan

gap analysis automation

What is gap analysis?

The gap analysis is a standard management tool in business, especially for large enterprises. Company leadership sets goals and compares the current state of the business to its desired state. Where are the gaps? Why do those gaps exist? The gap analysis examines root causes, sets a plan, and works through challenges to achieve the goal.

The goal might be reaching a sales target or reducing harms, like customer complaints. Alternatively, the objective might be more strategic, like winning or being invited to bid for larger contracts.

It’s important to be clear and dispassionate during the gap analysis process. It’s not about blame, it’s about having an action plan, and that requires careful analysis. Underlying reasons for late orders might be staff shortages, or supply chain delays. You may be losing bids because prices are too high, or your team’s skills are out of date. Missed sales targets might be because your market is evolving, but your products aren’t.

Forbes groups these gap analyses into four general types:

  • market
  • strategic
  • profit
  • skills

Regardless of type, every gap analysis has a common component: metrics. You decide what to measure, then track your progress against this metric once your action plan is in motion. After all, to close a gap, you need to calculate its size, and that means you need data.

Harness data to make the RFP process more efficient

The gap analysis is also relevant to the RFP process: you can work faster and more efficiently through opportunities using the power of data. As we highlighted in our guide Bids and Proposals: Trends of 2022, the current landscape is extremely competitive, as the global economy moves past the pandemic. Using data and automating the RFP process gives companies the best chance to compete and win.

That’s especially true because of the complexity of the proposal process when it comes to RFPs.

A robust RFP – especially if it’s for an indefinite duration/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) — can be long and complicated. It might easily run to over 150 pages and be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Contractors eagerly await publication of these major opportunities and compete hard to win. That means the pressure is on to develop the most complete, compelling, and compliant proposal before the deadline.

Automation helps in several ways:

  • makes bid/no bid and teaming decisions more data-led
  • accelerates tedious but essential tasks like creating the compliance matrix
  • improves qualitative tasks, like tracking win themes and matching client language
  • helps your team avoid burnout as workloads grow

Use VT Docs to conduct a gap analysis as part of your RFP process

Proposal management software like VT Docs can help streamline your RFP process. The new Discovery feature in VT Docs 4.1 builds on feedback straight from our customers. Here’s how new Discovery helps you improve efficiency by incorporating gap analysis into your process:

Make faster bid / no bid decisions

As your proposal teams sift through opportunities, they’re seeking alignment between the current RFP and past successful proposals. But often they use subjective criteria to do so. This means they’re looking at what they perceive as alignment, rather than gathering data that proves it.

You can think of this search for alignment like a gap analysis, and take a data-led approach. New Discovery in VT Docs lets you measure how much the current RFP diverges from proven experience, instead of going by gut feel. Using a quantitative instead of a subjective approach is especially important as your teams get busier.

Using New Discovery makes it easy to compare an RFP with past proposals to find relevant experience (and reusable content). The analysis shows frequency and spread of key terms and concepts across multiple proposals, all at once. That means you can see misalignment at a glance and rule out entire proposals right away. 

For instance, your team might be considering an RFP for a radio system for law enforcement. New Discovery lets you take two separate search terms – such as “radio” and “safety” — and connect them. You can then search for proposals where both terms appear. Irrelevant proposals are obvious, and you can exclude these at once.

For past proposals that are a strong or partial match, you can drill down to see the detail. Document preview shows those key phrases in context, so you can gauge a proposal’s relevance without opening it, saving even more time.

Make better decisions on teaming partners

Many RFP respondents will need to work with subcontractors to meet the needs stated in the RFP. That’s not a dealbreaker, as the RFP issuer expects the most qualified team, and that may involve specialist skills.

But how can you be sure you’re selecting the best teaming partners?

Many businesses tend to use the same limited circle of teaming partners. You might view known partners as low-risk and a safe pair of hands. But choosing a partner just because they’re familiar can jeopardize your chances of winning the business.

It’s essential to interrogate a partner’s skillset to determine if they’re right for a specific pursuit. Otherwise, the statement of work in your response could come across as generic, or as a copy-and-paste job. The customer will spot that kind of weakness, and it could cost you the bid.

Businesses can improve their probability of winning by taking a data-led approach in teaming selection. With New Discovery in VT Docs, you can upload the fact sheets or capability statements for partners you’re considering. The software breaks out the themes across partners, and lets you pinpoint who has experience that’s pertinent to this opportunity.

As before, you can search for linked terms across multiple documents, so gaps in partners’ experience become instantly apparent.

Disqualifying certain partners right away saves time that you can spend on more strategic aspects of the proposal. For instance, how should you structure the teaming agreement to improve chances of winning?

Build on unsuccessful RFP responses

Each RFP response should become part of your company’s knowledge bank. This repository lets you reuse content for future bids, but you can also conduct useful analysis of unsuccessful responses. While losing a bid can be a big disappointment to proposal teams, every loss allows you to learn.

Cherokee Federal is a good example, as the company explained in a recent webinar. A capture manager asked for an analysis of an unsuccessful response. “The analysis we ran through VisibleThread showed us that we had used our name four times as often as we had used the customer’s name,” said Mona Lee, Proposal Manager for Cherokee Federal. “That’s invaluable as a lesson learned.”

Beyond the RFP: gap analysis in day-to-day operations

VT Docs customers say that once they begin using the platform, they see new use cases beyond their RFP process. These include:

  • Resume analysis: make the hiring process faster and more precise by using VT Docs to analyze resumes. Compare applicants’ CVs to job descriptions, and you’ll spot obvious gaps. This lets you focus your search on the most qualified candidates.
  • Win/loss analysis: the example above showed a reactive analysis after a request from a capture manager. But companies can also be strategic in analyzing all responses. This provides a macro view on how well or poorly your responses address key themes.
  • Technical compliance: analyze your internal policies and systems against Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). VT Docs analysis allows you to pinpoint any gaps in your system and address them, without rewriting your entire policy. This may be pertinent in areas like accounting or purchasing systems, where a system must meet certain requirements to be FAR-compliant.

As competition heats up, automation matters more

Your proposal teams will only get busier as more opportunities come on-stream following the pandemic. In one of our recent webinars, 85% of our attendees said burnout was a serious concern in their function or team.

Automation, and using data to back up your analyses, is essential to improving efficiency. It’s all about putting structure on unstructured documents, which gives you the data you need to make informed decisions.

As your organization grows, automation is also a part of maturing as company. It’s how you can begin creating repeatable, standardized business processes. That’s essential as you scale and discover more business opportunities that your business development teams need to assess.

When you equip your teams with the right tools, they’re able to keep pace without burning out. And with your best people working their best, you’re best positioned to compete and win.