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Govt talks up partner presence in Australia’s drive for digital dominance

“We cannot go at it alone,” said ​Australia’s Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation, Michael Keenan

Australia’s Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation, Michael Keenan, has flagged the increasingly critical role of partners and suppliers in the country’s ambitions to become a global digital leader.

During an address to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) at the National Press Club in Canberra on 13 June, Keenan outlined his ambitions for Australia’s digital prowess and detailed some of the ways in which he hopes to see the Government attain them.  

“If we are to achieve our goals of improving the lives of all Australians, we must challenge ourselves to be better in the way we leverage digital, data and technology to transform government,” Keenan said.

“We must look at world best practice and learn from it, be it from our own start-ups, industry, academia, local and state governments or other countries big and small, close and far away. We must do so with a clear vision in mind.

“That vision is not to simply emulate other countries, but to be a government that is truly world-leading in digital transformation for the benefit of Australia,” he said.

However, a big part of the Government’s efforts to drive the evolution of its digital and technological prowess, Keenan suggested, comes down to how the Government engages with the providers that supply it with technology products and services.

“We cannot go at it alone,” Keenan said. “We need to be able to engage closely with partners and suppliers to access the best tools, technologies and skills available to deliver benefits and value to individuals and organisations.

“We will continue to closely work with Australian businesses, start-ups and government clients to ensure the digital marketplace capability continues to grow and provide best value for Australian government in the rapidly-evolving digital services sector,” he said.

As such, Keenan reiterated the Digital Transformation Agency’s (DTA) stated task of developing a Digital Transformation Strategy for the Federal Government aimed at helping it achieve its digital vision by 2025.

As part of this task, the DTA, which is charged with handling a large chunk of the Government’s IT services procurement arrangements, released a consultation paper in April, calling on the local IT industry and other stakeholders for feedback on its draft ICT Procurement Framework.

The proposed framework was aimed at providing the foundation needed to ensure the Federal Government is able to deliver a simple and clear approach to IT procurement, for both government buyers and industry sellers.   

One of the areas of focus by the DTA has been a push to make it easier for smaller players to tap into potentially lucrative government IT work, a long-time priority for the Agency and its predecessor, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

“Small and medium businesses have made it very clear that breaking into the government procurement sector is hard,” Keenan said. “We are changing the way government buys ICT products and services – and working on a series of reforms to make it easier for small and medium businesses.

“This will result in simplified processes and consolidate whole-of-government buying, enabling us to access better skills, better technologies and more innovation to deliver benefits sooner and to more users,” he said.

Indeed, the accessibility of Government IT contracts to smaller suppliers is one of the core concerns of a new Digital Sourcing Framework for IT procurement released by the DTA on 13 June and flagged by Keenan in his address at the National Press Club.

The DTA’s Digital Sourcing Framework is a set of principles, policies and guidance that show Government entities how to buy digital products and services.

Under the framework, agencies remain responsible for buying their own digital products and services. 

As part of the framework, the DTA has developed best-practice principles to guide buyers when they are sourcing digital products and services.

These include the principle to encourage competition, be innovative and iterate often, and be structured in a way that enables small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to compete fairly to provide components of large ICT projects.

They also include the principle to be outcomes focused, use open standards and cloud first, minimise cyber-security risks, and avoid duplication by not building platforms that other agencies have already built.

“We will also maintain our focus on bringing more opportunities to small to medium enterprises who have made it very clear that doing business with government can be challenging at times,” Keenan said.

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According to the DTA, the new framework is essentially a renamed version of the ICT Procurement Framework, which was released in draft version last year for industry consultation.  

The new name reflects the fact that the term ‘digital’ is broad and includes information and communications technology (ICT), the Agency said.

As such, the new framework covers many of the areas that fall under the broader digital umbrella. These range from policy, data and design to build and maintenance and digital marketing.

Along with the new framework, the DTA said it is looking at so-called Fair Criteria with the aim of encouraging competition, including efforts to encourage more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to provide services to government.

Along with the previously announced $100 million cap on contract value and three-year cap on contract terms, the areas the DTA is looking at include insurance, limiting liability, security and providing separate financial criteria for large enterprises and SMEs where appropriate.

The agency also said it is looking at a Digital Consider First policy to make sure government buyers consider all options before they start the procurement process.

“The areas we’re looking at include cloud first, open standards, cyber-security, shared platforms, the Digital Service Standard and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products and services,” the DTA said.

As part of the framework, for which the DTA continues to ask feedback about, the DTA has released draft policy principles for feedback to make sure its panel approach will improve the experience of buying and selling digital products.

The new draft Digital Panel Policy is aimed at allowing new sellers to join panels more often, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and help agencies source digital products and services.

In addition, the draft also aims to help government buyers use digital panels and help consolidate panels and make them easier to use.

“Inconsistencies in terms and conditions, contract management, pricing and reporting arrangements is some of the feedback I have heard about government panels that causes confusion for both buyers and sellers,” Keenan said.

Keenan also flagged an expansion to the DTA’s Digital Marketplace procurement portal, which is designed to make it easier for smaller IT providers to compete for government work, with a new Training Marketplace to be launched towards the end of June.

According to Keenan, the Training Marketplace will give government buyers more focus and flexibility to source the training and development expertise they need from the Marketplace, while buyers will be able to source qualified sellers to build digital capability within their respective areas.

The Training Marketplace will also provide sellers with greater opportunities to provide training services to government, while supporting the broader upskilling of digital capability to drive transformation efforts across government.

“In the spirit of the new Digital Sourcing Framework, we will continue to iterate and innovate on the principles, policies and guidance products I have outlined today,” Keenan said.

“As new technologies and ways of working emerge, our ways of buying them may need to change, and we need to be flexible to these needs,” he said.