The Digital Marketplace where government agencies can purchase IT services now allows public servants to ask vendors for new solutions they didn’t know were available.
A new “ask the market” function has been talked about since at least 2017 and will be switched on this month, allowing buyers to explain what they are trying to achieve and request “innovative solutions” from potential suppliers, according to Digital Transformation Agency chief strategy officer Anthony Vlasic.
So far the procurement platform has mainly been used by public servants who already know what they want.
“What we would like it to do is to drive further innovation,” said Vlasic, before offering a demonstration of the new function on his laptop at the launch of this year’s ACT and Commonwealth Public Sector Innovation Awards, hosted each year by the Institute of Public Administration Australia ACT Division.
The DTA executive said the typical procurement process did not do a good job of “driving innovation” in the public sector. “In fact, there’s very few mechanisms in the Australian government that do that at a central, whole-of-government level,” he added.
The new area of the marketplace allows agencies to ask vendors for ideas to support small-scale experiments, prototypes, and proof-of-concept exercises, post simple questions or problems they want to solve, and call for information or expressions of interest from the market.
“Now don’t get me wrong, this stuff can be done in the Australian government if you’re looking in the right place and you talk to the right procurement person,” said Vlasic. “What we’re trying to do is to make it as simple as possible to make that happen.”
He said the marketplace platform had a range of advantages for both buyers and prospective sellers compared to supplier panels, which lock in a group of vendors for particular IT categories for years at a time.
Over 1300 opportunities for work have been posted on the marketplace to date, 15% of them with state, territory and local government agencies and 73% awarded to small and medium enterprises, said Vlasic, speaking after an innovation panel featuring managers of projects that won last year’s innovation awards.
By value, it’s only relatively small amount of procurement, just over $360 million compared to about $6.5 billion spent on IT by the Commonwealth every year, but it is growing quickly. Vlasic said $248m worth of contracts went through the platform in the last year.
The former Westpac executive said he didn’t realise how big the Commonwealth’s technology “ecosystem” was until he moved to the DTA — bigger than that of the big four banks combined.