Bidding for a government ICT contract is perhaps a little different from bidding for a private industry contract, says ICT consultant Colin Jackson. But some of the differences are not as great as they appear.
It starts with knowing where tenders will be promoted, which means knowing one’s way around the GETS (Government Electronic Tenders Service) website, www.gets.govt.nz.
There are certainly some tightly defined processes that government agencies, and those who deal with them have to follow but in many cases these elements, such as strict risk management, would be best practice anyway, says Jackson. However, because transparency is one of the features of government tendering practice, some elements of the process may appear more elaborate because they are more visible.
Government “does have a process to go through that’s designed to be fair” and hence, from a bidder’s point of view, may lack flexibility, says Jackson.
The burden doesn’t just fall on bidders though, government agencies themselves sometimes have to be reminded of, and advised on, the necessary processes and the over-arching constraints.
The business of government is public service — “and that means service to 100% of the public, not just 95% of them,” says Jackson. Hence, there are rules, such as the government’s web guidelines, which encourage websites — the main vehicle for online interaction with the public — to be accessible to people with disabilities, people with slow internet connections and those who prefer to use technologies other than the most popular browsers.
Government projects demand a greater degree of focus by the vendor and by the client agency to avoid potential slip-ups and omissions, because of the danger of public exposure, says Jackson. “Unlike a private industry contract, you can’t sweep away mistakes and things that you wish had gone better [and think no one will find out or care].”
Detailed advice is available, for example, in the “Guidelines to Managing and Monitoring Major IT Projects”, developed by the State Services Commission and Treasury in the wake of the Incis police system failure.
The guidelines take bidders through the objectives and constraints of government information systems in general; the principles of good governance and management that they should observe, and the specifics of the kind of monitoring bidders can expect.
The most common mistake made by bidders is “failing to understand what government’s requirements and constraints are,” says Jackson.
“I’ve seen bids go through as unmodified copies of bids made to private-sector organisations, and that’s not the way to get a government contract.”
Is the process of adhering to guidelines expensive? “[Well], expense is always an issue,” says Jackson. “If you’re bidding on a multi-million dollar project you expect a reasonable amount of expense to be incurred in the bidding process. But I’d be surprised if private companies with projects of similar size demand any less rigour or a bidding process that costs less.”