How agencies and indigenous businesses work together

By Jason Eades

October 1, 2015

Tom Burton: I want to revisit the capability question. I suppose at one level, this could just be a dating service I suppose. To reflect on that, how do we ensure this sort of capability drive actually brings to fruition real gains?

Jason Eades: There is one thing that we know about the free market is that when the conditions are there and they right in terms of the policy environment and they right in terms of the mechanisms for making sure that they are achieved that the free market kind of takes care of itself. So there will be people who will see that this is a real opportunity, it is an opportunity to set yourself aside and have that little bit of edge over competitors. So people start looking for those more little gains that they can make. They will seek out Aboriginal entrepreneurs and vice versa, Aboriginal entrepreneurs who can see this as an opportunity, will look at how they can position themselves.

So I’m confident there’s enough people who are in this space that will be able to take up some of the immediate opportunities. The part that really interests me in most though is not so much those that are ready and capable right now, but how we bring the next generation of those businesses along and how we develop them. I think hand in hand with this policy is a need to invest in that space, invest in capability building. In some instances creating networking opportunities that allow people to meet one another. You don’t go into business with someone without knowing who these people are and networking events are a great way of bringing different business sectors together so that people can meet. If there’s mutual interest then they can look what opportunities there might be for them.

Tom: So the traditional rules apply in many ways …

Jason: Relationships matter I think in all aspects of business, as it matters in all aspects of life.

Tom: Tell me about the whole procurement piece from an agency perspective. Do you have any observations there how agencies can really maximize the benefits of the new policy?

Jason: I think first people will look at this policy and they’ll think about the big contracts. They’ll think about, the policy itself talks about mandatory set asides, from work that’s valued between eighty to two hundred thousand (dollars) . But for most people, they can make a difference by the small decisions that they make. Whether that be from the catering that they purchase for a meeting, whether it be who prints a particular policy document, relatively small value jobs and in some cases will be sub one hundred thousand (dollars), but they can have a big impact for those Aboriginal businesses. I think having a much bigger impact than what people would realise.

Most businesses in Australia are small and the Aboriginal community is no different to that. What there is of the Aboriginal business sector is largely made up of small enterprises. So making sure that we don’t leave that behind in creating rules that really take care of the larger ones and the opportunities that come from them, but also not missing out on the other end.

Tom: Federal procurement is a pretty sophisticated business as we know, and there’s tight rules around that. How do indigenous businesses get that sort of skill set? What is your advice?

Jason: I think this really drives to finding a good capability partner or somebody who can mentor you through that process. What we have seen today is the most successful Aboriginal businesses today have done that really well. They have found people who were willing to coach them through the process, help them as a business, understand what they need to meet to win that work, and help them actually find ways in which they can develop that skill set. So that’s been the real key to success.

I think the only way to really build that is to find good mentors or good capability partners, because it’s not something that comes natural, the details and the things you have to know in terms of procurement. It varies of course, depending on the size and style of the work you’re trying to win and the nature of the work you are trying to win. So it’s always best to find people who know the sectors.

Tom: And that’s where Supply Nation comes in, in terms of marrying those sort of corporates wanting to engage indigenous businesses and indigenous businesses wanting to be part of that.

Jason: I definitely see that as one of the opportunities. The corporates of course are looking for opportunities to bring Aboriginal businesses into their supply chain, diversity matters and we know that diversity actually adds a lot of value for companies. It’s also in their interest to make sure that a provider that they bring to a supply chain is capable of being in that supply chain. It’s in their interest and it’s in the interest of that business. And we’ve seen here in Australia a real willingness to coach and mentor people along so that they are able to meet those conditions, and certainly internationally that’s the success ingredient really, where many larger corporates understand that it’s in their interest to get a good stable business into their supply chain, and that means taking the time to invest from a capacity building, capability point of view.

Tom: And in terms of understanding the opportunities, AusTender is the main vehicle where these are found, but it is a difficult beast to navigate. Do you have any recommendations around how indigenous businesses can think about, if they like the opportunities, the deals that are coming through, the contracts that are likely to come up.

Jason: I think it’s fair to say whilst AusTender is the platform that where you find the opportunities, relationships matter when it comes to awarding contracts. If you out of the blue apply for a AusTender and nobody within the department actually knows who you are, how do you give confidence that you can actually do that? So relationships and building, reaching out to those departments, making them aware of what you actually do, building that confidence that you can actually deliver upon what you say you can, it really enhances your chances of being successful and winning.

So AusTender is a platform to find all these different opportunities and there are, depending on your industry, you can get thousands of listings out of there. There’s value in actually having a look at the past in AusTender because successful tenderers look at pricing, what people have actually won, what they’re delivering and how do you compare to that. So if you’re going to compete in a market place, the first thing you do is do your research, and AusTender can actually help you pull together the information. But fundamentally it’s all about relationships. If you don’t have them then you really won’t have much an opportunity to win them.

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