In March 2016 the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) launched its Digital Transformation initiative. The National Innovation and Science Agenda describes the Digital Marketplace as ‘an ecosystem where government buyers can publish briefs with their requirements, suppliers can respond, and two-way collaboration can take place.’
The initial premise is that government agencies will post digital problems and then SMEs can pitch their ideas on how to solve them. The most promising ideas will then be awarded contracts. The hope is that by creating this space, it will allow smaller players (who have traditionally had difficulty complying with Government processes) a chance to put their hand up, provide unique solutions and grow their business. As former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne noted at the time:
‘We’re keen to open this up to smaller and newly-established businesses who have traditionally found it too big a burden to prove their credentials to government. There have been too many hoops to jump through, so they simply haven’t bothered to apply for government ICT work … That’s a lost opportunity, because we know lots of businesses are on the cutting edge of digital innovation and can provide exciting solutions for governments to deliver better services at a lower cost.’
Digital transformation is a big priority for the Federal Government. Over the course of the next few years they plan to allocate $5 AUD billion in ICT projects and the Digital Marketplace is a way for smaller businesses to access these funds and to be players in a wider culture of Australian innovation.
In August 2016 The Digital Marketplace announced that development was in beta stage, a mere five months after its launch. ARNnet have noted that the Government has already listed ‘$20 AUD million worth of opportunities on the platform.’ And that’s just the first three months of operations [and] this is by no means the endgame for the marketplace.’
It’s also attracted positive feedback by government users. And it’s not just Federal agencies using the marketplace. Agencies at all levels of government are seeing immediate benefit. A Victorian local government employee remarked, ‘In 14 years in government, this is the easiest procurement I’ve ever done.’
Sellers are also seeing positive results, Amith Attygalle from TP&G Solutions were really happy with the opportunity to compete for good-size contracts saying, ‘Being a small operator with no ‘contacts’ in government or industry, the Digital Marketplace is a miracle for us. We keep getting opportunities at a steady rate … keep up the good work!’
Digital Marketplace Roundtable: Possible issues that could arise
Even though the feedback has been good, the agency still acknowledges that as it is in its nascent stage, it’s vital that issues are explored so that the marketplace can scale organically. There have been regular panels and roundtables with thought-leaders, government buyers and vendors invited to nut out what some of those barriers might be and how developers could anticipate them. Three big issues came out of the latest roundtable: Opening the market to new sellers, communication and education
Opening the market to new sellers
According to DTA Content Designer Steven Berends opening the market was the most common feedback, and as such, ‘self-service seller onboarding’ was made the key priority to come out of the roundtable. The first step in this process is expanding the features offered on the platform ‘to give all sellers the chance to offer services to government.’ The release date of these services will be announced in the upcoming months.
Many attendees offered that communication with government agencies can be difficult; that the rules and regulations can be tricky to navigate (and those rules aren’t always consistent from agency to agency) and that government departments can be reluctant to seek help outside their sphere and to ‘go it alone.’ The way to overcome this is to create an environment that embraces ‘creativity, simplicity and structure.’ Berends was surprised that attendees didn’t seek to harness technology to do this, instead they focused on ‘the human elements.’ They wanted to know how the marketplace could help sellers and agencies:
- start a useful dialogue
- share their stories
- engage in courteous online etiquette.
Having articulated these concerns means that the agency can look at how to build these guidelines into the environment with clear and simple rules. In the meantime Berend asserts, ‘we hear you and we’re onto it!’Education
Another big priority to come out of the discussions was the need to educate both buyers and sellers, as education leads to trust and confidence in the platform: ‘We also learned that education is critical. We need to ensure government buyers feel confident using more open and more collaborative approaches. We need sellers to feel confident in sharing ideas and helping solve government problems at an earlier stage. And we need to build this education into every experience in the Marketplace.’
What does the Digital Marketplace mean for government agencies
The Digital Marketplace heralds a big change in the way government interacts with business and the quality, agility and flexibility of services that agencies will be able to offer citizens. In the upcoming year, it will be fascinating to see how this ecosystem develops and the innovation that arises from it.
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