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Credit: Digital Transformation Agency, Australia

Credit: Digital Transformation Agency, Australia

DTA Australia releases new draft ICT Procurement Framework for feedback

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) of Australia has released the draft of a new ICT Procurement Framework for feedback.

This is in line with Recommendation 1 of the ICT Procurement Taskforce Report — to guide policy and decision making. The government accepted the 10 recommendations of the ICT Procurement Taskforce (subject to some minor adjustments). 

This lies at the centre of a series of reforms to make it easier for small and medium businesses to sell to government, simplify processes, avoid duplication, and consolidate and coordinate whole-of-government buying.

The Framework will apply to ICT procurement by both Commonwealth Corporate Entities and Non-Corporate Commonwealth Entities. It will be available for all Federal, State and local governments to use, for all categories. It is mandatory for Non-Corporate Commonwealth entities to procure through coordinated arrangements, where these exist.

A multi-agency team comprising procurement experts from seven Australian Government agencies worked out of the DTA to develop, prototype and test the ICT Procurement Framework. The team included people from the Department of Human Services, Australian Tax Office, Department of Finance, Department of Home Affairs, Department of Defence, Department of Health and the DTA.

The team conducted a series of research sessions to understand user needs, as well as consultation sessions with multiple agencies and industry bodies.

Key findings

It was found that many government procurement officers view panels as rigid and lacking flexibility. New players and emerging technologies are locked out because traditional panels are not set up to bring on new service categories. The team also found a sentiment that there are too many panels, and that there is a wide variance in the way panels are managed.

Agencies also said that ICT procurement policy requires flexibility and wide consultation. There was strong support for increasing the A$80,000 procurement threshold (procurements above the threshold are subject to additional rules, such as requirement to approach the market), which adds red tape for buyers and is seen as a barrier to entry for sellers. This threshold forms part of Australia’s international trade agreements and DTA says that it is a complex research finding to tackle.

The team found that 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.

Agencies said that 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.

There is also support for panel manager forum or ICT professional’s forum for sharing and collaborating.

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. 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.

Elements of new framework

Two new and two existing policies

The proposed Framework includes a new Fair Criteria Policy, which aims to encourage competition and support SME participation. It could include considerations around insurance, limiting liability, security, and separate financial criteria for large enterprises and SME, where appropriate.

In addition, a new ICT Consider First Policy has been introduced to make sure all options are considered before procurement starts. This could include consideration of Cloud First, Open Standards, Cybersecurity, Shared Platforms, Digital Service Standards and Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS).

The new focus of an existing ICT Portfolio Panels Policy will be on encouraging competition and supporting SME participation. This policy is an update and reinvigoration of the existing policy considering areas such as refreshable panels and endorsement from DTA.

The Framework includes an evidence-based review of the existing ICT Capped Term and Value Policy to determine if the policy is delivering the intended benefits. This aligns with the taskforce report which recommends regular review and renewal of the ICT Procurement Framework and Policies.

Improved access to information and tools

The framework includes a range of guidance to make the ICT procurement process consistent, easier and more efficient. This includes a central repository for ICT Procurement information, such as departmental guides, guides to support procurement teams engaging with business and myth busting.

It also includes tools to make ICT Procurement easy, such as model contracts, centralised registers, platforms, panels, AusTender checklists, an annual benchmark on prices and decision trees for finding the right procurement approach.

There are also plans for forums for ICT Procurement professionals to stay in touch across agencies. This would include a range of virtual and physical forums such as an ICT Procurement Bulletin and potential new seller and government buyers groups.

Data-focused reporting

According to the Framework, Reporting should focus on data that can be easily tracked and monitored, that measures both the principles and the policies. Where data is not available via AusTender, further consultation with entities will be required to understand if it is possible to obtain this information and what it would cost agencies to collect in terms of time and resources.

According to DTA, there is work to be done with AusTender to ensure that the information captured is reliable and holistic. Currently, everything is not captured on AusTender, and the information is heavily reliant on the quality of input from agencies.

Questions

DTA wants to hear from anyone who will work with this framework, including people from government agencies - especially those in procurement - and from industry, especially those that sell ICT to government, or want to in the future.

A list of questions has been provided for all these stakeholders, such as asking buyers and sellers to list the List the parts of the framework that are most important in what they do and what else they might need from an ICT procurement framework to make an effective procurement decision.

Click here for the framework and the list of questions.

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