Foreign Office commercial chief: Suppliers, don't be liars
Director calls for more honesty on procurement risks
The commercial director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has argued that if the government is to achieve its goal of procurements taking 120 days, both Whitehall and suppliers have to understand what they are procuring and the risks associated with it.
Ann Pedder told the Intellect World Class Public Services conference in London that there was an onus on suppliers to understand the business of what government is trying to achieve.
"If we are trying to achieve 120 days, then we all have to do more homework up front. It would also be useful to be honest and open about where the risk is," she said. "On some recent procurements, we have successfully managed the process, but we may have missed a trick in where the risk was placed."
Reiterating the government's desire to be viewed as a single customer, Pedder told delegates: "We have aspirations to be a single customer and how you as suppliers organise yourselves can help us achieve our aim."
She added that if you have the privilege of being a supplier to government, you are expected to behave in a certain way. There is a responsibility, she suggested, to act as a single supplier to a single customer and not as a supplier that has contracts with 10 different departments.
Also speaking at the event was David Smith, commercial director at the Department for Work and Pensions. He said the government wants to simplify procurement processes to reduce the cost of bidding down to 120 days, or even down to 90 days - a point that was also made by John Collington, the chief procurement officer, at the same event.
Smith said that reducing the cost of bidding to suppliers ultimately reduces the recharging of those costs to government. But he added: "I'd rather spend 150 days getting it right than 100 days getting it wrong."
This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.
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Gosh, yet again the govt tries to wriggle out of the debacle that is public sector procurement. As a war weary veteran of over a decade in the trenches of public sector procurement and delivery, let me put my head above the parapet and let them know what the foot soldiers think.
Why does public sector procurement actually take so long?
A number of reasons come to mind:
1. Each govt procurement is an opportunity for every man+dog dept to actually get something, so typical procurement has a mass of requirements written in the most complex language imaginable and occasionally contradictory. I've worked on projects with over 3,000 requirements some of which are massive undertakings in their own right though some are pretty simple. Simply monitoring compliance is a team undertaking. But hey, the depts know what they want and we the vendors have to address every requirement normally with a "yes, we are 100% compliant" otherwise we don;t get through to the next stage.
2. The various procurement experts who pop up to assist govt agencies through this stage. These people are incentivised to beat costs out of the project but since we know how they work and they know how we work, we almost dance a well known dance to get us back to the numbers we all thought of in the first place, but hey these experts have saved us £5M or whatever. Not really, we're not stupid, we know how the game is played as well, but we have wasted another couple of months. The worst experts are the ones who actually save money up front and leave a complete mess of stinking poo to be sorted out 2-3 years later after they've taken their bonus for saving the govt money, actually that's like some of our own sales people so I shouldn't complain :)
3. Lets also throw in security as well and govt accreditation. Thats good for slowing things down, driving the price up (considerably) and gets a whole group of people onto the gravy train.If you are clever about it you can build a whole career in govt IT security simply asking if the latest Microsoft patches have been applied and sucking your teeth in when it was impossible to apply as the latest Microsoft AD patch completely destroys your domain and so necessitates a massive redesign and patching excercise which adds no value as there is no external connectivity to the system, but some govt security twat thinks that all patches must be applied to maintain security. So when we have come back with a price and a design in the 90 days we need to take all of this into account which also slows us down (and drives the price up).
4. Even when we do all of this, and get the 22 separate copies of nine volumes spread across 32 sections printed on just under 4,000 pages each delivered to the govt, normally by truck as 100,000 sheets of bound paper oddly enough won't quite fit into the boot of the company BMW, the govt then takes longer to read it and come back to us though they are contractually bound to reply in X days. Oddly enough contracts like this seem to be one way. Then they come back with comments and questions that shows they have put the sections out to print but not given all the sections to everybody, so we then waste even more time trying to collate their comments together to produce an answer that is sensible and helpful, rather than "you're a blithering idiot, read the right section, we put the response together how you mandated it, now read it that way".
5. And then after all of this it finally goes to the right person to sign it off, this person will make sure that all of the naysayers in his or her organisation have been forced to have an input and to say yes, as he/she wants to make sure if there's an issue or problem it's one that can be shared amongst every single director or grade 5/6 in the organisation and it's not just the heads problem. This means any one person can say "no" but it needs a unanimous vote to say "yes". Oddly enough, just like the UN. This is when the little deals get cut in the back room.
So when the govt says we the vendors need to speed things up, I'd strongly suggest that you the govt, remove the large train timber out of your own eye first.
All well and good, but the promise was that smaller businesses would have the opportunities to tender for Gov work. As it stands it's only the usual suspects that ever get a bite of the pie.
So if they are asking suppliers not to be liars maybe they should look elsewhere rather than into the same murky pool time and time again.
Can't afford the overheads
Small businesses can't afford to employ the legions of sales and legal staff necessary to comply with 'Best Value' tendering processes. The harder the government (or other large organization) works to ensure that it gets the best deal, the more expensive the deal is, because both sides have to massively lawyer up, and the client typically has to have at least as many staff to monitor the performance of the outsourced task as it would have taken to just do the task themselves.
The ideal is if each department or group within the larger organization is allowed to do their own purchasing up to a given budget. It means they get the equipment and software they need, when they need it. However, there would be 'waste' due to duplication of effort or being unable to negotiate per-unit costs down if there really is a need for an enterprise-wide licence.
Big companies want large organizations as customers because there is a lot of revenue there if you do get the deal. Small businesses don't want the hassle.