ICT suppliers appear ready to take on work to further the government’s digital and e-government strategies, but representatives at a State Services Commission networking breakfast last week were still sceptical.
The principal areas of concern are supply and demand for skills and the amount of work involved in preparing bids for government contracts.
The conventional request-for-proposal (RFP) process is “a load of nonsense”, says Selwyn Feary of web developer Shift. The cost of preparing an RFP often almost exceeds the benefit of getting the work, he says.
There are comparatively few suppliers capable of doing a particular project, he says, and government agencies have a good knowledge of who they are — or can come by that knowledge quickly by going to the vendors’ websites.
With all-of-government developments such as the Government Shared Network, the SSC’s e-government team is pushing the “build once, use many times” philosophy, and they should adopt the same approach to potential vendors, Feary says; “they shouldn’t ask us to reinvent ourselves in each new RFP.”
In answer to the suggestion that pre-selection of vendors might be seen as compromising impartiality, Feary says the solution is in government’s and vendors’ hands.
“There should be a site where vendors can advertise their credentials,” he suggests; then agencies would not overlook suitable candidates and no-one who put their details on the site could complain they were overlooked.
When Shift is looking for development staff, he says, it doesn’t feel obliged to notify every recruitment agency; just those who have relevant candidates and have come up with good people in the past. It should be the same with government tenders, he says.
Pieter de Villiers, of Optimation, a company already involved with e-government projects such as the Government Shared Network and government logon service (GLS), says New Zealand’s alleged ICT skills shortage is partly of the industry’s own making, since most ICT providers are not willing to give work to new graduates.
“My son is completing an IT degree and he’s been looking for a job.
“Companies tell him he has ‘no [practical] experience’ so there is no place for him. Where do you think he’s going? Australia. So are a lot of his classmates.”
The skills shortage “won’t be solved in the short term”, says Murray Wills of ICT services company Maxsys. So all-of-government projects are doubly appropriate, since they ensure a powerful system is available to many agencies from only one development job.
All providers spoken to appreciated the chance to talk to government representatives directly. The breakfast was arranged with a set of providers working in similar fields at each table, along with one or two SSC people with knowledge in that area.
State Services minister Annette King and ICT deputy commissioner of the SSC Laurence Millar addressed the meeting. They were followed by Martin Matthews from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, testifying to the relevance of e-government to its work in the NZ Encyclopedia and nzhistory.net projects.
He thought he was chosen as the most unlikely advocate for e-government; if it had been someone from the Ministry of Research Science and Technology, the audience would have been profoundly unsurprised, he suggested. If e-government has reached Culture and Heritage, then it is a sign it is really beginning to transform government, he said.
Graeme Osborne, CIO of ACC, was the fourth speaker. As a former private industry CIO (with Southern Cross) and active in several industry bodies, he extolled the role of “human networking, not computer networking” in bringing providers and clients together.