Govt geospatial data contract confuses bidders

Linz RFP sparks concerns about clarity of requirements

A potentially groundbreaking public-private partnership in geospatial data has been marred by inadequate communication and short deadlines, industry representatives claim.

Earlier this month, Land Information New Zealand (Linz) released a request for proposal (RFP) asking for “proposals from innovative companies that specialise in collaborative partnerships to implement land information web services”.

The proposal is considered innovative both as a means of wider distribution of geographical and land-ownership (cadastral) data — a key part of the move towards opening up government digital resources — and as an example of public-private partnership that embraces the concept of open data, says one representative from the private companies in the geospatial data industry.

He believes many are puzzled as to exactly what Linz’s needs are and are finding it difficult to respond to the RFP.

The aim of the project is to open up convenient online access to Linz’s geographical and cadastral data, but having read the RFP, “I still don’t know whether they are looking for a consultant, a panel of consultants or a finished system,” the potential bidder told Computerworld.

Steve Critchlow, chairman of the local branch of the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA), speaking at a geospatial data workshop in Wellington this month cited the RFP as an example of the kind of “intervention” needed to unlock the data for use by business.

“SIBA broadly supports the intent,” he said, “but we believe its delivery leaves something to be desired. Earlier discussion would have led to a more effective procurement engagement.”

Referring to what he considers to be “significant industry confusion” at the workshop about the project, he said, “there has been no consultation with industry about the content or form of the tender and prospective bidders were given only two weeks to respond.”

“This is not the model for effective industry engagement and it leaves many SIBA members suspicious of the tender process,” Critchlow said.

This, he believes, underlines the need for SIBA to “participate in the governance of New Zealand’s geospatial work programme” and “give meaning to public-private partnership in this vital area”.

However, Linz has extended the closing date for responses to the RFP; it was originally August 23, but is now September 6.

Linz chief executive Colin MacDonald, who was present at the conference, pointed out that being too prescriptive could be an issue with government tenders. If the document sought to allow a choice of approach, the tenderer was often accused of being vague, but if it were tightly specified, bidders complained of being constrained and unable to show innovation, he said.

However, approached after the meeting with the straightforward question, “what does Linz want?” MacDonald told Computerworld he was not involved in the detail of the RFP. He referred Computerworld to another Linz staffer at the meeting, who also claimed no direct responsibility, but undertook to find a suitable contact.

Following the workshop, Linz general manager of strategic development and support, Sue Gordon sent a statement to Computerworld. It was subsequently posted on the GETS government procurement site as ‘Clarification 4’ of the RFP. It reads as follows:

“The RFP for these services uses an outcomes approach rather than specific technical requirements. This deliberately non-prescriptive approach, which is standard within government, allows companies to demonstrate innovation in proposed solutions and services.

“In response to feedback from SIBA, we extended this RFP process to four weeks, which allows companies to seek clarification on the RFP in a transparent way. Some companies have sought clarification from us.

“For some time now, Linz has engaged with many New Zealand and international market participants around geospatial web services and spatial data infrastructure. We have seen many examples already, and Linz is confident that innovative geospatial software development companies will respond to this RFP.”

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