Government information and communication technology procurement processes could become a lot easier for smaller IT providers to navigate with the creation of the federal Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) underway.
The formation of the new agency was announced on 14 October, by Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor, at an event hosted by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) in Canberra.
Under the plans, the government’s Digital Transformation Office (DTO) – established by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in July 2015 during his tenure as Communications Minister – will be expanded, with a new structure, an enlarged remit, and a new name: the Digital Transformation Agency.
Just as the digital aspects of the Department of Finance’s Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) were transferred to the DTO when it was created as part of the government's digital transformation agenda, the remaining federal government IT procurement duties will be shifted to the DTA.
The DTO had already taken on the customer-facing technology duties of the federal government upon its creation. The organisation’s new enlarged identity as full-blown agency will see it adopt the IT procurement and back-office technology oversight that had, until now, remained under the jurisdiction of the Department of Finance.
“The new digital agency will be responsible for the ICT policy and ICT procurement functions, currently managed by the Department of Finance,” said the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in a statement when the DTA plans were unveiled on 14 October.
“Changes around creation of the new agency and its remit will be recommended to the Governor General for approval.
“The DTA will build on the success of the Digital Transformation Office which has worked closely with its partners to deliver significant improvements in online government services, including improved access to the government’s myGov portal, more transparent digital procurement and streamlined Medicare enrolments for newborns,” it said.
One of the DTO’s core focus areas has been the development of the government’s new Digital Marketplace platform, which went live in beta on 29 August. The beta launch followed an open tender process initiated in March by the DTO, asking businesses to join its new Digital Services Professional Panel.
The driving idea behind the creation of the Panel and the subsequent Marketplace is to give smaller IT providers an easier time competing for government work which, in turn, is hoped to help to drive technological collaboration and innovation among government agencies and the private sector.
According to Taylor, the Marketplace portal will simplify what had been a bureaucratic process for businesses to access government technology work.
“This is an important change in the way [the] government has traditionally done business. It’s a new platform for businesses and government to work together in a creative and flexible way,” said Taylor when the beta version of the platform was launched.
With federal back-end and IT procurement duties set to be moved under the management of the DTA, smaller IT providers are likely to get a greater chance to vie for government contracts across the board under a Marketplace-type arrangement.
Certainly, slimming down the government IT procurement process has been a pet project for DTO chief executive, Paul Shetler, who is set to become the government’s chief digital officer once the leadership of the DTA is handed to Department of Communications deputy secretary, Nerida O’Loughlin.
“A major barrier holding back innovation in the way government delivers services is procurement. Our goal is to deliver services that are as accessible and seamless as ordering an Uber or banking online, but to achieve this we need to make it easier for innovative businesses to partner with government,” Shetler said when the DTO’s Digital Marketplace was first announced.
“Procurement barriers can be costly for businesses of all sizes, but particularly for startups and SMEs who may find it difficult to navigate the red tape and jargon associated with some procurement processes,” he said.
It’s no secret that competing for big government contracts via conventional tender processes can be a time consuming task that many smaller resellers may not have the internal resources to undertake. This often leaves big name vendors and integration partners to compete for lucrative government contracts.
The creation of the new agency could potentially lead to a more even playing field for IT channel players looking to take on more government work -- a move that would see small and medium-sized partners gain a greater opportunity to tap into government projects.
On this front, Taylor points to the ICT Procurement Taskforce that has been set up under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to consult with industry and find ways to streamline the procurement process.
"For me, this Taskforce has succeeded if it comes back to Government with fact-based recommendations focused on streamlining procurement, enabling two-way idea development, and delivering value to the Government," he said when announcing the DTA.
At the same time, however, digital projects may come under heightened scrutiny, with the new DTA set to include a new program management office to manage the strategy and integration of digital transformation agendas across all of government – and to monitor IT projects from inception to completion.
This function was foreshadowed by the announcement by the DTO in September that former Treasury CIO, Peter Alexander, would be appointed as its new chief operating officer. As part of this role, Alexander is slated to manage the performance and program reporting of the DTO’s transformation impact across the federal government.
“This is an important task to help demonstrate the benefits of the digital transformation agenda to people, businesses and the Australian public service in terms of its economic and social benefit, costs savings and time management,” said Shetler at the time.