It’s not new news that government procurement processes are difficult to navigate – with limited opportunities for small and medium digital service providers to get a foot in the door. I had the privilege of joining a mix of government representatives and private suppliers at Canberra’s Open Opportunity Conference late last year. The intent of the day was to reflect on the impact that the Digital Marketplace Program has had on startups and SMEs in winning work with government – and whether it has really delivered on all it promised. A series of impressive speakers from either side of the fence weighed in on the discussion, all with a surprisingly consistent message.
Chief Digital Officer for the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) opened the discussion with a refreshingly frank admission that the program was still a long way from where it needed to be. This came off the back of the InnovationAus SME survey results, which were the starting point to frame the discussion.
A snapshot of these include –
- 64% rated the Australian Government as difficult or very difficult to deal with when compared to other customers
- Many felt there was a lack of clarity around how procurement decisions were made once tenders were submitted
- Others believed that most opportunities weren’t project related, but targeted individual roles as project contributors. Coupled with inflexible briefs, there was limited chance for creativity in tenders, or end-to-end solution development opportunities
My first question was (beyond the usual bureaucracy and red tape) why the initiative had such an unimpressive start?
One comment from the first panel of the day offered an answer that resonated with me. “There is an illusion that working with a large-scale strategy provider goes hand in hand with low risk – this is actually far from true.” Each panellist went on to agree that there was a shared view in government that a risk-averse agenda was best served by the biggest, most established agencies. While this may be a hard sentiment to shake, it was agreed that this was an outdated perspective hindering government from procuring smartly and efficiently.
While the roadmap for the next phase of the Digital Marketplace remains unclear – a pretty compelling dialogue has acted as another step in the right direction.
We’re watching this space.