Continuing the conversation — becoming better buyers of ICT

Find out about the steps we’re taking to make improvements to ICT procurement, and how you can get involved.

A hand drawn diagram of the agile process. Experiments, technology and ideas all go in to create prototypes. Using an agile, iterative process we can transform how we deliver projects.

Caption: A sketch artist’s interpretation of the sellers group conversation

We’ll keep conversations two-way

It turns out government buyers and ICT sellers all want the same thing — for it to be easier to buy and sell ICT with government. We are just looking at it from different perspectives, making it seem like we’re after different things.

The government’s ICT procurement reform taskforce started a conversation between the government and the ICT sector. Now it’s for us to keep up the discussion and make a difference in the short and long term.

As a first step, we convened small groups of buyers and sellers over the last couple of months. Our CEO Gavin Slater held our first sellers group at the end of October with a dozen leaders from ICT businesses of different shapes and sizes. This week we hosted the first buyers group with a dozen executives from public service agencies in all three tiers of government.

For both forums we asked the groups to help identify areas where we can make a difference to how we buy and sell. They gave us some good actions, which we’ll be following through on and have outlined below.

Make panels better

Unsurprisingly, government’s procurement vehicle of choice — panels — were a hot topic in both groups! Especially in the sellers group, there were strong opinions from those in favour of panels and those against. However, all CEOs agreed they need to be easier to join and use. Government buyers want the same.

It was reassuring the sellers group held up the Digital Marketplace as a good example, with CEOs pointing to improvements we can make to get the balance right between being easy to join and giving government the assurance they need.

We are already looking at the marketplace’s processes to make sure it is the exemplar for government ICT procurement by listening to the feedback and iteratively improving it. In the new year, panels we establish or review will start to live and breathe, allowing companies to join more regularly and adapting to change as needed. First up is the proposed hardware marketplace now out for consultation. Have your say on that one by reading the discussion paper and get back to us by 25 January 2018.

Finally, both government and industry get frustrated with the process for security clearances. We’ll be reaching out to the right government agencies in January to see what we can do to help.

Focus on outcomes, not contractors

Industry and government know we need to move away from hiring people to ask the market for outcomes.

For sellers, this is about letting the industry — the subject matter experts — provide us with their expertise. Engaging for outcomes rather than individuals means business gets a holistic view of the problem and a better chance of building the right solution. And government avoids pre-prescribing a solution which is not fit-for-purpose.

For government, going to market for outcomes is a way to avoid competing against ourselves for a limited pool of experts. Next year we’ll be throwing ourselves into giving agency buyers more support to shift how they describe opportunities and procure goods and services.

Let the innovation in

CEOs feel government are not open to talking to businesses for fear of preferencing one supplier at the expense of others. The result is industry has no way of letting us know if they see a solution to a problem.

There is a lot of work to be done in this space, but we’re looking at tools and systems we can use quick smart to let the industry put forward unsolicited, innovative ideas.

One solution we’d like to pursue is pitch events. GovPitch held earlier this year saw the Commonwealth’s most senior public servants listening to six cyber security companies from the marketplace. Our sellers group says there is value and interest in this kind of exercise and we’ll be using GovPitch as inspiration for others like it. We have started conversations with government agencies about hosting events in 2018.

The other part of the innovation picture is walking our talk when it comes to being agile. Rather than going to market for lengthy contracts with all the benefits at the tail end, we need to go throughout alpha, beta and live stages. Those phases get us a headstart on testing a product during build and coming out the other end with the right system.

The government has capped the length and cost of ICT contracts for government agencies, a change which is already having an impact. In the last three months we have spoken to 10 agencies about this policy, working with them one-on-one to break procurements into smaller, component parts.

A hand drawn diagram of how we innovate. Don't lose an idea, share knowledge, share success, share intellectual property, connect the pieces, have vision, create a stronger connection, see the big picture and use the right mechanism.

Caption: A sketch artist’s interpretation of the sellers group conversation

Improve visibility as the first step for collaboration

For every topic we touched on with the buyers group, we heard one big theme — we need more visibility on what other agencies are doing. Without knowing what other agencies are about to buy and when, government will struggle to coordinate and buy smarter. It’s a thought echoed by sellers, with our CEO group recounting stories of being asked to provide the same solution at the same time to different agencies.

We talked about AusTender and annual procurement plans as tools that should allow this visibility but are not delivering insights the way we’d like them to. This issue was echoed by the taskforce, who noted there’s not enough data to guide forward investments. To get this moving, we’ll prioritise going through the information government already gathers and working out how we can use it to better effect.

We can’t solve this overnight but the DTA can be better at sharing what we know about upcoming projects with other buyers.

What’s next?

Our buyers and sellers groups came up with a lot of good, actionable ideas. These are just some we’re focussed on, which were prioritised by the groups on the day.

To keep brainstorming and testing solutions with industry and government, we will run regular alternating buyers and sellers groups starting in the first quarter of 2018. We’ll keep the groups small and mix up the people for different perspectives. If you would like to join one, let us know by emailing ictprocurement@dta.gov.au

To our pilot buyer and seller groups, we are grateful for your time and contributions in conversations and meetings over the past few months, and we look forward to continuing this work in 2018.

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