Bidding begins on Canberra’s new digital marketplace

By Tom Burton

A new tender panel for digital professionals to bid for parts of the federal government’s $5 billion annual technology services spend has been set up on AusTender.

Interested suppliers have less than two weeks to respond to the tender by the Digital Transformation Office, with final proposals required by April 4.

The panel is an interim step ahead of the establishment of a full digital marketplace, announced four months ago as part of the government’s innovation statement.

Announcing the interim step in Sydney at fintech incubator Stone and Chalk, the new Digital Transformation Minister Angus Taylor said the DTO is establishing a series of targeted panels of providers while the digital marketplace is being built.

“We’ve launched the first of these panels, a digital specialists panel, for professionals in this field, and all interested businesses are encouraged to apply through AusTender,” Taylor said.

“This panel will also make it a lot easier for governments to access the digital expertise they need to supplement their in-house teams. These are just the first steps in a greater collaboration between government and the tech industry and I look forward to engaging more with this exciting sector.”

“These are just the first steps in a greater collaboration between government and the tech industry.”

Over coming months the DTO will look at the obstacles that block ICT suppliers from providing digital products and services to government, Taylor said. Discovery on the digital marketplace begins in April, with a public beta platform expected by the end of the year.

The digital marketplace is a direct lift of a similar program that has been successful in the United Kingdom and is being touted as a user-centered approach to the problems many small to medium businesses have working with the procurement practices of government.

The UK Government Digital Service created three frameworks around cloud, physical infrastructure and digital services. The GDS is now on its 10th iteration of the marketplace and is looking to bring in other public sector buying frameworks onto the service to establish it as a new platform for easier supply and purchasing of government services.

Many government agencies also struggle with the complex practices and rules which make it problematic to break down large contracts into components that smaller firms can bid for. The tendering process is also very legalistic and paperwork heavy, creating a major workload for government business units procuring services and products. Payment and invoicing systems are also antiquated, adding to the already onerous, costly and slow procurement process in government.

The need to move quickly

One major issue is that procurement practices push agencies to fully scope requirements for a tender contract, leaving them little room to adopt more agile practices to start small and iterate the requirements based on user testing. This tends to see agencies then have to re-scope contracts as requirements change, leading to cost and time blowouts. The Victorian Auditor-General and Ombudsman recently released a report repeating major criticisms about the chronic failure of government ICT projects.

The current market reality in larger ICT projects is that many of the bids are put through the larger integrators (Telstra, IBM, Salesforce, SAP, etc) which typically bring in smaller providers to offer specialist services within the larger contract.

The DTO initiative is seen as a practical step to helping government access the innovation, lower costs and speed of smaller digital providers. It is also hoped to promote closer collaboration in the ideation, design and delivery of services at a time where government is seeking to adopt many of the practices of the start-up community.

According to the DTO the digital specialists panel will be open to federal, state and territory governments access to a list of digital suppliers pre-approved to bid for government contracts.

“We think this will give government access to a wide range of innovative and agile suppliers to help us with digital transformation,” according to Phil Webster, a senior delivery manager at the DTO. “For the DTO and partner agencies having a vetted list of suppliers experienced in agile delivery will certainly make a big difference, particularly for projects that have timeframes as tight as 20 weeks.

“It’s also a good way to ensure quality. To set a high benchmark, we’re asking suppliers to show us their strong track record in delivery. They’ll also need to demonstrate how they can mobilise resources at short notice, and work rapidly across multiple locations. They’ll also be expected to support departments in building and running services that meet our Digital Service Standard.”

The categories that the Digital Specialist Panel will cover are:

  • Product management;
  • Business analysis;
  • Delivery management and agile coaching;
  • User research;
  • Service design and interaction design;
  • Technical architecture, development, ethical hacking and web operations;
  • Performance and web analytics;
  • Inclusive design and accessibility; and
  • Digital transformation advisors.

This piece was originally published on The Mandarin.

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