Stories by Claire McEntee

IT industry bodies call for tender complaint role

Industry group NZICT is calling for the establishment of a "procurement ombudsman" to resolve complaints about the handling of government tenders.
Chief executive Brett O'Riley said technology firms had for a long time felt unable to pursue complaints for fear of harming their relationships with public sector clients.
"Issues that the industry have talked about are when a request for information or a request for proposals has been released and there's been no decision, so companies have incurred costs on the basis that something would proceed. But also where the scope [of a tender] has changed in the middle of a process, and situations where there's been breaches in confidentiality."
A procurement reform group – which NZICT was a part of – had revised and republished the procurement complaints process.
"That's a good start because I'm not sure many in the industry were aware that there is a formal complaints process. That's a good step one, but step two is how do you progress an issue?"
NZICT would suggest to the Economic Development Ministry that an ombudsman be set up.
The ombudsman job could be a dedicated position or picked up by someone in a similar role, and would apply to all procurement, not just ICT, he said.
"Every time there is an issue that takes a while to resolve, that's additional cost to both parties and we want to minimise the number of cases that involve legal costs."
Don Christie, spokesman for breakaway lobby group NZ Rise – set up to represent the interests of New Zealand-owned technology firms, said there should be a procurement ombudsman to actively monitor the amount of work and public money that went to New Zealand-based companies.
That would help identify whether procurement processes were cutting out local vendors.
"It needs to be more pro-active. At the moment we can complain to the Office of the Ombudsmen if we feel there is a problem with process and fairness."
The ombudsman could also assess complaints from companies that felt they had been discriminated against.
NZ Rise believed the Government's moves to set up public sector-wide purchasing "mega-contracts" for items such as computers and photocopiers, and to deliver shared services to department such as datacentre services discriminated against smaller, local firms.
"That prevents those companies from providing specialist knowledge and specialist services. It's good for the one or two people procuring, but it's not good for driving value into government."
Clare Curran, Labour's communications spokeswoman, has tabled a private members bill that if passed would establish a commission of inquiry to determine whether the Government could and should have a policy that gave preference to local procurement without breaching international obligations.
Ms Curran has said local companies are missing out on large contracts – particularly software licensing contracts.

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Fibre-optic cable headed for your sewer pipes

New Zealand homes and businesses could soon be getting ultrafast broadband through their sewer pipes.
The Government is gearing up to select firms to demonstrate various methods for deploying the fibre-optic cable that will be rolled out under its $1.5 billion ultrafast broadband scheme, and Brisbane firm I3 APAC, which has rolled out fibre through sewers, says it plans to be in the running.
The firm – a subsidiary of Britain-based I3 Group – is touting sewer systems as a more cost-effective means of deploying fibre. It has completed a trial in Brisbane, connecting two sites over 1.4 kilometres of fibre, and successfully deployed fibre via sewers in Britain.
Spokeswoman Lee McLean says its international technical support manager visited New Zealand last month and worked with network providers on field investigations in Wellington and Christchurch. "They examined sewer and other fibre networks and conducted an analysis of how I3 would be able to deploy in the New Zealand environment."
I3 is now working on an installation analysis and expected costings.
Firms wanting to demonstrate different methods of deploying fibre have until Friday to indicate their interest with the Economic Development Ministry, which has estimated the cost of "passive infrastructure", such as new underground ducting, could account for 50 to 80 per cent of the cost of the network build. I3 APAC's head of corporate strategy Andrew Lawson told Australian trade magazine Communications Day it hoped to have one million homes in Britain "fibred up" by the end of 2012.
"We have some sort of track record of delivering at between 350 and 450 a home – and the benchmark [in Australia] is A$2000-$3000 [NZ$2400-$3600] a home."
Previous sewer deployment schemes in Paris, London and New York had failed because the fastenings attaching fibre-optic cables to the sewer roof had perished in the toxic sewer environment and the cable fell out.
I3 used a fortified loose-laid cable that ran along the bottom of the sewer, he said. "We have had no failures."
The company selected sewers with a low maintenance record, to avoid blocking them.
Tim Davin, policy manager at the Institution of Professional Engineers, says sewer pipes in New Zealand are relatively small in diameter, meaning blockages could be more of an issue if fibre was fed through them.
Sewer pipes tend to follow gravity and land contours and may not run parallel along the length of the street, which could complicate a fibre deployment, but engineers are open to new methods, he says.
I3 is also testing a system that uses mains water pipes to deliver fibre into premises for compliance with New Zealand standards, and has partnered with construction equipment firm JCB to produce microtrenching gear, ITWire said.
At an industry conference earlier this month Crown Fibre Holdings CEO Graham Mitchell claimed that the deployment of a ubiquitous fibre network will be a civil engineering challenge. See Curse of the quarter acre section.

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