Call for change in Govt procurement rules

2 Apr 2007

Rigid public procurement processes, rather than technology, are more likely to cause large-scale projects to fail, a leading e-government expert has warned.

Lisa Mascolo, group chief executive of Accenture’s Government operating group, spoke to when she was in Dublin last week.

Mascolo was involved in working with the Revenue Commissioners when it began its change programme in the late Eighties. Now one of her key areas of interest is reform of the procurement and tendering processes for agencies working with the public sector.

“Typically the department writes its spec, pitches it over the wall to five or six different vendors who have five, six or seven interpretations of what it is and respond,” she explained. What results from this process is a mix of specifications that may be over-engineered or not interpreted correctly, she said.

“I think the more we can open up the procurement process – within the confines of a set of rules – the better off the client is and the better off our client’s clients are,” she said, referring to members of the public who use the services.

“Not all procurement processes are bad; clearly many of them are very slow but I think there are ways in which we can open up the dialogue, not unfairly advantage one company over another, and provide a better end result more efficiently,” she said.

She gave the hypothetical example of designing and building a new system that would provide multiple health benefits to one recipient through a single programme instead of requiring them to visit many offices and fill out multiple application forms.

“That’s very complex and the Government probably can’t conceive, probably can’t spec it to the nth level of detail that’s necessary, nor can we define it to the nth level of detail that’s necessary in a proposal. So it would be very important to have open dialogue, to do due diligence and then to pilot,” she said.

“Through a pilot process you may actually discover that what you thought was going to be the answer is not the answer. And you provide for dialogue after the pilot process and provide for changes in the pilot, to learn from the lessons and build those into the system.”

Assumptions and misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities are more likely to result in poor projects, she added. “My opinion is, failure in the IT realm doesn’t result from a failure of technology. It results from a failure of both parties to appropriately manage the process,” said Mascolo. “The proper way to avoid failure is to have the proper marriage of the client and the contractor throughout the process.”

By Gordon Smith