Digital Transformation Agency chief digital officer Peter Alexander concedes that robust criticism by SMEs of the Digital Marketplace is not unreasonable.
Mr Alexander says the underwhelming recent findings of an InnovationAus.com survey of Digital Marketplace users was consistent with the results uncovered by the government’s ICT Procurement Taskforce, when it reviewed ways to make it easier and cheaper for ICT businesses to win public sector contracts.
The Digital Marketplace survey found 72 per cent of registered SME sellers said they had not won any business through the Marketplace, despite 60 per cent of those companies having existing relationships with government.
Speaking to attendees at the Open Opportunity Canberra forum last week, Mr Alexander said: “We need to do more. The [ICT Procurement] Taskforce found there was no coordination in the way government procures ICT services. Agencies are there creating their own systems and duplicating processes unnecessarily.”
“If anyone feels like they’re being too harsh about the way we do procurement, don’t be. Because that report was written by government to government, and we were critical of ourselves,” he said.
Sharing his first-hand experience, Wayne Gerard, the founder and chief executive of Redeye, said the Digital Marketplace may have had good intentions, but it’s not tailored for startups.
“I signed up for it and I look at it all the time, but there has not been one opportunity that has been relevant for a startup to actually want to put a solution to a problem through that process,“ he said.
Industry department deputy secretary Elizabeth Kelly said that while there was no denying the Digital Marketplace had faults, it is a platform the department has used regularly to since it was launched just over a year ago.
“We use the Digital Marketplace very frequently, and we found it opening up a different style of firms to us, with ease…you have a broad range of small to medium enterprises out there, and so it’s really a question of ambition from public servants to tap into that,” she said.
The Digital Marketplace offers opportunities for government to proceed in the right direction in being a “better buyer”, especially when compared to traditional tender panels, such as Austender, she said.
“Panels are just too easy, and they will always be the first thing public servants go to because they manage the compliance issues,” said Ms Kelly.
“But from industry perspective, it’s very clear that panels that are not refreshed regularly exclude new ideas that come from SMB sector. Reforming the role of panels is absolutely critical.”
Gavan Mackenzie, partner at legal firm Maddocks, agreed saying “the marketplace isn’t that bad”, with belief as more small to medium enterprises (SMEs) compete to win government contracts, it will encourage “more dynamic innovation in the marketplace”.
Mr Mackenzie also argued that by making lower value contracts no more than $150,000 available in the marketplace, it will open the door for SMEs to “punch above their weight and it also means the big boys won’t go near it, because to them it’s not even a crumb on the table.”
Mr Alexander said the DTA envisages the Digital Marketplace will “end up like a bazaar where you can go and there are providers in the marketplace, there’s catalogues that will be available, you can select and compare particular products in the marketplace, prepare contracts with flexibility, engage and talk … all of these things are on our radar.”
“We need to make the platform better, and we are getting feedback and doing a lot of user research with SMEs to make the marketplace better,” Mr Alexander said.
The government recently celebrated the Digital Marketplace awarding nearly $38 million of its total $50 million in technology contracts to SMEs or startups.
InnovationAus.com hosted Open Opportunity Canberra 2017 at the National Press Club on Thursday November 30.