Local ICT lobby group NZRise attracted some high-powered speakers from all sides of the government ICT procurement process to a seminar last month. The aim is to improve communication and further evolve procurement processes, particularly to be fairer to potential providers based in New Zealand. The latter often claim they come off badly under the present system in competition with international vendors and suggest that with more work awarded overseas and locked up in rigid long-term contracts for “panels” of approved suppliers, local resources of expertise may in time be, in one speaker’s words, “gutted”.
To encourage free and frank discussion, the seminar was held under Chatham House rules, so no speakers can be quoted attributably.
Speakers and participants in round-table discussions included decision-makers and policy formulators behind the move to rationalise all-of-government ICT procurement processes, as well as representatives of government agencies, who now have to work within the all-of-government process unless there is a good reason not to.
There was a notable mood for more flexibility in tendering arrangements. The system recently introduced by Victoria’s state government was referred to approvingly; Victoria has moved away from a fixed list of providers to an open list, which any provider may join at any time. The only filter put on participation is one of financial stability and sufficient insurance against project or company failure.
Increased flexibility of some kind is needed, many participants said. They pointed out that ICT development is a “creative” industry, unlike the supply of commodities such as stationery.
Providers are seeking an appropriate way to bring that creative, innovative thinking to the table and to engage with potential customers at an earlier stage than the current formal Request for Information and Request for Proposal process. That way, delegates said, government agencies can be kept continuously aware of innovations that might beneficially work their way into planning for projects before the tendering stage.
Government’s Open Door to Innovation scheme is a positive development in this direction but not a complete solution, the delegates said.
Groups at roundtables discussed specific angles of the procurement process, such as inclusiveness, early engagement, openness and diversity of providers, and put forward proposals to improve the situation. These discussions were interspersed with keynote presentations from all sides of the process.
The seminar was acknowledged to have been positive and potentially productive. “We knew we wouldn’t go out of here with every issue solved”, said one of the organisers, but significant ideas have been aired and channels opened wider for further communication.
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