Editorial: Probity paranoia?

Editorial: Probity paranoia?

Who is winning what deal is often the subject of news stories in ARN. Put it down to our charter to provide “peer review” in the industry. A hot story is that ‘local service provider A’ beat ‘big multinationals B through Z’ for a deal worth squillions. A hotter story is: ‘Multinational X’ won a massive Government tender, left out their channel partners, and we all smell a rat!

It is our duty (as journalists) to be a little on the cynical side, especially in an industry drowning in marketing spittle. But every now and then I get told by the procurement manager of some Government department that perhaps those who complain to the press about “unjust” tender processes might merely be precious about not being included in the deal.

There is certainly a danger that our scepticism, and indeed the general attitude of the industry with regard to these matters, may actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to organisations choosing the right IT solutions.

The matter again popped up last week. I was writing a piece on how systems integrators such as Dimension Data were moving up the value chain, by providing professional services in those areas where many years of implementing successful solutions had allowed them to lay claim to some degree of expertise. In deals such as this, the integrator would aid the department in the initial formulation of its strategy — the requirements of the project, the design of the solution, or even the tender process itself. These are tasks normally left to your traditional breed of “business consultants.”

Now, I would love to mention specifics but, unfortunately, bad press about past government deals has made most departments uneasy about discussing who they seek professional services from. Indeed the paranoia extends beyond that — there is one particular state government that now has a zero tolerance policy on gaining professional services (advice) from any company that may also be considered as being suitable for winning the implementation of the project. This means that a department becomes limited in who it can solicit advice from — and it becomes less likely that those it can solicit advice from are the pick of the bunch when it comes to practical experience.

Some might say that the pendulum has swung too far in the interests of probity at the expense of departments being able to make decisions that are in their best interests.

National sales director for Dimension Data, Tony Whigham, offered a recent example to illustrate the point: Dimension Data was picked to assist a department in designing a solution, but the department asked that DiData not make any bid to win any of the resulting business for fear of the bad publicity such a decision might provoke. Ironically, other vendors that pitched for the project requested DiData as a sub-contractor, but again the probity issue was cited as grounds to refuse such a request.

“This now puts companies like us in an interesting dichotomy,” Whigham said. “We have the breadth and ability to be independent and we provide high-level consultancy based on sound industry knowledge, having also integrated the solutions we offer. More and more we are being asked to help Government compile tender requirements — but doing so is more and more likely to prevent us from bidding on the solution. On the other hand the Government faces the risk of tendering for solutions that may not deliver the desired or expected result.”

It’s easy to see the arguments on both sides. One — that prejudice could easily creep into a tender process if one of the bidders is already in the ear of the department. Two — that we can’t presume such involvement will lead to the department making the wrong decision for its needs.

The probity issue certainly needs to be addressed — swinging the pendulum too far in one direction could lead to outright corruption; swinging too far in the opposite direction might very well result in all tenders being won on price and not expertise. And we all know what price wars do to the channel ...

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