The way we were

The way we were

On Tender

There are very few moments in our trying lives when we have the opportunity to get away with it. In short, we’re all bloody liars, at some point or other.

For example, recently I was scheduled to attend a presentation by Chris Chant, a British civil servant involved in changing how the UK Government procures IT services.

G-Cloud is designed to deliver ICT services across the entire UK public sector — from ministries to councils — with a procurement framework for purchasing and reusing applications through a central repository.

Chant is so famous for G-Cloud evangelism, he tours the world telling anyone who will listen how he was the one that put a rocket up the UK government's tender process.

I doubted I would hear anything new in his scheduled Auckland address. So, instead of listening to him speak, I decided to stay in bed that morning watching the scene in The Empire Strike Back when Luke finds out Darth Vader is his dad, over and over, because Luke’s reaction amuses me.

It was early in this 'mental health day' that I was able to think of a decent excuse to tell the office as to why I wasn’t attending Chris Chant's presentation.

I rang the office and before I could even put on my best 'flu' voice, they told me Chris Chant was a no show.

Brilliant, I thought. I could tell a different lie, claim I was there, furious and disappointed for having travelled such a long way for nothing, and would it be possible to still claim expenses?

Chris Chant’s thesis is that Government has paid too much for IT services for too long time, but it doesn't have to, not with G-Cloud. There have been instances in the UK, he has contended, where departments were billed thousands of pounds for the service of a computer, and that hundreds of thousands of pounds had been squandered on projects that never produced a thing.

I discussed this with a higher-up at a large Wellington-based company which has had dealings with our government for at least a decade. The chief laughed at Chant's sentiments, especially in regard to the government's own tender repository, GETS.

“That’s the whole point of working for the government,” the source told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We don’t jump through their hoops for nothing. It’s bloody hard work to get into government contracts, and when you do get in, you feel like you should be rewarded. I can remember a time when I had six contracts, all done on the shake of a hand over lunch at an Italian restaurant.

“GETS is a waste of time,” the source continued. “Why would you want to spend all that time preparing a tender only to have the thing cancelled or renewed in a year? The thing they had down here the other month, Meet the Buyer, was fantastic. That by-passed the process and got us back to where we used to be, before all this tendering bullshit.”

This made me think that perhaps we are on a slow path to where we once were. If Meet the Buyer were to continue, side-stepping GETS, then what is GETS for? Chant’s rants about governments not knowing what the hell they were doing is true. But it is past tense. We all know that in our times now, CIOs in government are well qualified and know the market inside out, including who can deliver a service and who can’t.

However, could it be that, over time, qualified respondents will increasingly turn their backs on government tenders? The government may find itself in a sellers' market. The world has changed but some things have stayed the same. Does the bell toll for the tender process? Would this column become redundant? Would I be out of a job? As Darth Vader, Jr might put it: “Noooooo.”

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