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6 things DTA has learned about procurement since taking over ICT

The Digital Transformation Agency poached a number of staff from the Department of Finance when it took over management of the government’s $10+ billion whole-of-government ICT procurement. However, the fledgling agency — famous for its revolving door of sneaker-wearing executives — has also brought a fresh perspective.

It consulted with practitioners, like any good central agency should. It came up with a framework based on the 1031 Post-it notes taken during those consultations, and now it’s seeking feedback from both government buyers and sellers to government on whether the team got it right.

The draft framework has two new policies — Fair Criteria Policy and the ICT Consider First Policy — intended to support small and medium sized enterprise participation and to make sure all options are considered before procurement starts, including Cloud First, Open Standards, Cybersecurity, Shared Platforms, Digital Service Standards and Commercial Off The Shelf.

Existing policies for portfolio panels and capped term and value remain under the framework.

Agencies retain their responsibility for ICT procurement, while the DTA is responsible for providing a unified set of principles, policies and guidance to agencies on how best to carry out ICT procurement.

“The result of this work is a single draft framework that incorporates behaviour and cultural change and user needs and preferences,” the agency wrote on its blog this week. “It will make ICT procurement in government consistent, efficient and easier, and encourages a new procurement culture that supports innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.”

The draft framework is based on seven principles, developed indirectly from six themes it saw during the consultations. The framework’s principles are:

  1. Encourage competition
  2. Be innovative, iterate often
  3. Be structured in a way that enables SMEs to compete fairly to directly provide components of significant ICT projects
  4. Be outcomes focussed
  5. Use open standards and cloud first
  6. Minimise cybersecurity risks
  7. Not duplicate the building of platforms built by other agencies

Whether these are collectively the right focus would depend on whether the themes and experiences they heard from procurement practitioners are right. Judge for yourself here:

1. Panels are good but they could be better

“We found many government procurement officers see panels as rigid and lacking flexibility. This can mean new players and emerging technologies are locked out because traditional panels are not set up to bring on new service categories. There is a sentiment that there are too many panels, there is a wide variance in the way panels are managed and it can be difficult to find the panel manager for non-mandated panels.”

2. One size doesn’t fit all

“Agencies let us know ICT procurement policy requires flexibility and wide consultation. There was strong support for increasing the $80,000 procurement threshold, which adds red tape for buyers and is seen as a barrier to entry for sellers. This threshold forms part of our international trade agreements making it a complex research finding for us to tackle.”

3. Everyone welcomes the idea of guidance

“Agencies told us they would like an ICT procurement ‘One Stop Shop’ from the DTA that includes guidance, tools and reporting. Agencies would like the DTA to create an ICT contracting suite for medium value procurements (targeting SMEs). This could include adding clauses for contractor poaching, piggybacking and others where appropriate.”

4. People learn from other people and experience

“We found there is support for and value in like-minded people talking, sharing and collaborating. This could be in the format of a panel manager forum or ICT professional’s forum.”

5. There is a sense that procurement is very restricted

“There are a number of myths to bust for agencies to understand their choices when buying goods and services. Agencies are often not making the most out of the flexibility already built into the Commonwealth Procurement Rules. User research highlighted that internal Accountable Authority Instructions (AAIs) and operational processes are seen as restricting procurement practices, but this understanding is often outdated.”

6. ICT procurement isn’t understood as a specialist field by agencies

“The user research showed that ICT procurement is seen as a profession that needs to be supported at an agency level to invest in the capability uplift required. Further, this capability has become diluted and has moved towards more generalist procurement skills. The team found a need for training and learning opportunities to support the profession.”

Author Bio

The Mandarin

The Mandarin staff journalists.