Opinion: One of the Federal Government’s finest web applications AusTender has many charms.
It offers a convenient one-stop site for exploring the latest business opportunities for IT suppliers and its reporting function is both elegant and flexible.
Its email alert system can be tailored to refer the latest tenders or intentions by agencies to approach the market over the next few quarters.
It’s a transparent showcase that demonstrates accountability in Government purchasing. And its phone help desk support is one of the most responsive and effective I’ve ever used.
Problem is, it is also riddled with flaws that tarnish an otherwise accomplished public sector web site.
Here are the five that I find the most appalling in increasing order of nausea. Maybe AusTender’s staff might consider fixing these issues in their next review?
#5. Non-intuitive URL
Strange as it may seem, AusTender does not support http://austender.gov.au as an alias. It’s picky, but if you are going to promote the site as “AusTender - everywhere" - why do I have to look up http://tenders.gov.au instead? How tough is it to arrange an additional URL alias that goes to the same site?
#4. No tutorials on driving AusTender
The richness of AusTender lies in its sublime depth and breadth of features. It recently issued version 3.3 of its instructive 55-page user manual.
While this covers the main features, it is not for beginners or SMEs that would like tips on how and where they should use AusTender in their planning and research of the Government marketplace.
The US approach of offering an array of flash-based tutorials would be a perfect complement to AusTender’s user guide.
AusTender’s left side navigation can be deceptive and mercurial at best. Did you know, that if you click on “Agency Addresses” you just get forwarded to a page with a link to www.directory.gov.au?
If you feel tantalised to discover what “related links” cover, you get a quasi-Yahoo style listing of “National” and “International “links. In turn these cover purchasing policy and other State and Territory sites. The international sites offer links to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, EU, the WTO and the United States. The “Policy Documents” seems to be a subset of “related links”.
For example, I may download, store in cache, display, print and copy the data “in an unaltered form only, for non-commercial purposes, provided that this notice appears with all copies."
Also I may not re-transmit, distribute, or commercialise the data without prior written permission of the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
#2. Reporting of SME sales
The Government’s minimum SME participation requirements are clear. For ICT contracts with an expected value of $20 million or more, Australian Government agencies are to ensure that tenderers meet minimum SME participation levels as follows:
- Hardware (for example personal computers, network equipment, mainframes, and printers) - minimum SME participation level of 10 percent of contract value.
- Services (for example systems integration, software, software development/support, services provision, consultancies, telecommunications) - minimum SME participation level of 20 percent of contract value.
So why can’t the extent to which this is met be an option in AusTender reports? Instead we need to rely on occasional reports issued by Finance.
Without such reports, the Government’s SME targets are symbolic.
#1. Disposing of tender specifications 30 days after a contract is announced
This is my biggest gripe and one that can be fixed so easily.
While AusTender is excellent at alerting the market to the latest opportunities, it is dreadful – almost inscrutable - at alerting when a contract has been let for a particular tender.
Only tenders and planned procurements are automatically push notified via email to registered users. If you are interested in reviewing Contract Notices and Standing Offer Notices awarded, you will need to search on AusTender.
There's more: After a tender is closed, its status becomes "closed". See tabs on the left hand navigation panel where it will remain for just 30 days before being archived.
Once a contract has been awarded, the agency is obligated to post the Contract Notice (CN), including the name of the supplier, on AusTender, within six weeks of the contract being signed.
Typically this is after the 30 days in which the tender has closed. Public access to the closed tender archive is now only available by checking back with each Government agency.
If storage capacity is an issue, this would be the perfect application for a cloud system.
What do you think? What aspects of AusTender would you like to see improved or changed?