Federal government IT procurement has a new lead agency, a new minister, and a new official taskforce, but looks set to end up grappling with the same old issues that have confounded Canberra officials for years.
This week the Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor pledged to shift the Commonwealth’s $5.6 billion annual IT spend away from big suppliers and increase the amount of work going to SMEs by 10 percent.
He said the government has to be “much more porous to smaller players and innovators”.
“We should be aspiring to create a cluster of IT service providers, digital service providers, in this country that are world best," he told a Canberra innovation forum last week.
"But the only way we’re going to do that is if we ourselves are genuinely innovative in the way we go about IT procurement."
The speech heralded the release of the first discussion paper to come out of the government’s ICT procurement taskforce, providing a preview of where Canberra’s procurement agenda might go now that it is the responsibility of an expanded and rebranded Digital Transformation Agency.
The issues are nothing new - the taskforce is soliciting industry ideas on how to remove barriers to entry for small business, run procurement in a way that doesn’t stifle innovation, lift adoption of cloud computing, cut the costs of operating procurement panels, and restructure governance to produce successful project outcomes.
They’re the same problems the Department of Finance has been working through for years, from the 2008 Gershon Review, through its rewrite of the procurement rules, panel minimisation schemes, and easy-entry cloud panel.
Industry members, stakeholders and bureaucrats will have until January 31 to share their ideas with the taskforce and let them know what the government should do differently this time around.
At the heart of the taskforce's remit is the dual objective to “make it easier and cheaper for ICT businesses to contract with the Australian government” and “to deliver better government services at a lower cost”.
Taylor said 70 government IT panels cost industry members about $700 million, although they have also saved a reported $1.2 billion for the government since 2008.
The discussion paper noted that between 2009-10 and 2014-15, 25 percent of the government’s external IT spend went to just five vendors: HP, IBM, Telstra, Lockheed Martin and Optus.
“Commonwealth procurement rules are flexible in-principle, [but] in combination with agency-specific rules, security requirements and contract terms, they may constrain innovative ICT technologies entering into government," the paper stated.
“Navigating these rules can consume additional time and resources without guarantee of return."
The taskforce is due to report back to government early next year.