'Transparency' a thorn in govt buying policy

Interpretation of the term "transparency" is shaping up to be one of the major considerations in a move to streamline government ICT procurement processes and give local companies a fairer chance to bid.

Interpretation of the term “transparency” is shaping up to be one of the major considerations in a move to streamline government ICT procurement processes and give local companies a fairer chance to bid.

As the result of trying to be as open as possible, government agencies often attract a large number of bids, some from companies not really suited to the work and who have little hope of fulfilling the requirements. This can prolong the selection process, raising the expense both to the agency and bidders. The risk of technology advancing rapidly can require constant reworking of tenders.

ICTX, an informal forum of buyers and sellers looking at possible reforms in government procurement, is reportedly considering whether “transparency” can be retained as a necessary reflection of democracy and lack of favouritism, while at the same time cutting down the number of bids that have to be handled.

One strategy on the table, Computerworld understands, is to select the potential suppliers with the most obvious expertise but make the closed status of the tender known to all possible bidders, so anyone who feels they have been left out can ask to make a bid.

The elaborate and time-consuming nature of a tender is also likely to come in for examination. It usually involves a request for information followed by a request for proposals and then a full tender request, the responses to each of which need to be processed. On the other side, the huge expense of preparing such responses is thought to be discouraging participation by local companies.

The need to streamline the procurement process was identified in the report of the government-commissioned ICT Task Force earlier this year.

Contrary to an earlier report, ITANZ head Jim O’Neill says he has heard of ICTX, but not its idea to set up a “commercialisation unit” for selling applications software developed for government. This, says NZ Trade and Enterprise's Gordon Stevenson, was only an informal proposal.

ITANZ is also looking at the use of the intellectual property from projects undertaken for government. It came up with the idea of a Centre for Advanced E-Government Applications, which will be a forum in which government, industry, university and crown entities "can co-operate to create innovative e-government applications that help government CEOs achieve their objectives, advances the government’s e-government strategy, creates New Zealand intellectual property that can be productised and marketed offshore and jump-starts the future growth rates of the NZ ICT industry”.

A feasibility study into the centre is being undertaken by Joseph Rousseau, under contract to ITANZ.

The two projects will work well together, O’Neill says “The centre concept is about commercialisation,” he says “but that concept can’t fly unless there is some streamlining to the procurement process.”

Rouseau’s report into the centre plan could be published by the end of the month.

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