The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) is examining a proposal to act as a vetting agent for small firms seeking government IT work.
AIIA treasurer Russell Yardley told iTnews that an accreditation scheme is being examined in the wake of a joint government-industry working party examining the Victorian Government’s eServices panel fiasco.
The Victorian Government tried to consolidate the panel in July last year. It was forced to back down on the plan, increase the number of panellists and initiate a full review.
The AIIA is one of four industry participants on the review.
At the time of the panel consolidation, unsuccessful applicants charged that the changes were biased towards larger firms, rather than the SMEs that had participated on the original eServices panel.
The subsequent backdown by the Victorian Government - and stopgap measure where the number of panellists doubled to 368 firms - created a further disincentive for small businesses to seek government work.
“Companies want to know there is some value in getting in on the panel," Yardley told iTnews. "It can’t be like the Yellow Pages."
Yardley said the AIIA is wrestling with the challenge of adding small businesses to panels without diluting the potential benefits of the arrangements.
He said the AIIA Board has not determined a path forward. But he said that "some form of accreditation" was in demand from SMEs, particularly those in Victoria, and was "under consideration".
Yardley envisioned that the accreditation process could also replace the arduous - and sometimes intrusive - due diligence procedures undertaken by government agencies.
He said small businesses were often required to give their financials, spell out whom they have contracts with and other very intrusive questions about financial performance, in order to be accepted as a supplier to government.
“And, you know that there is a contractor at the other end working for the government who next week is going to be working for your competitor,” Yardley said.
“You should not have to reveal highly confidential information, just to win government work.”
Yardley said it was important to attract small businesses onto panels because they were largely responsible for the "strength and innovativeness of our industry".
eServices panel review delays
Yardley said the joint review is approximately three weeks behind schedule in preparing a draft report.
While he did not think the delays were "inappropriate", Yardley did say the AIIA is still waiting to receive "appropriate data ... to form sensible findings ... [and] come up with conclusions that allow us to recommend to [the Victorian IT] Minister the best options to more effectively manage $400m worth of purchasing.”
"We found we have not really got to the heart of the matters we wanted to,” he said.
He denied the working party had been "hobbled" ("That's too strong") but he also denied that the party's industry representatives were to blame for the delays.
However, he also defended the eight-person working party chaired by the former chair of the Victorian Government Purchasing Board, Rhonda O’Donnell, which he said was working diligently on the review.
The final report is due by the end of April.