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 …
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.
"Suppliers, don't be liars"
Yeah, right. Dream on.
Suppliers (& sales people) will stop lying when hell freezes over. In the meantime, us customers have to work our butts off to try and spot all the places where the supplier is trying to screw us.
Re: "Suppliers, don't be liars"
Moreover, if there are to be no liars in the deal, it is best to start with yourself. If you don't understand that regardless of how much you WANT to be viewed as a single customer, the reality that you are actually 120,000 different customers will get in the way.
The truth is supposed to sell?
I remember a story about the response of a stock dealer, years ago, at a seminar on the recently-introduced insider-trading regulations. i think it was some far-eastern market, not that that makes any difference.
"What? You mean I'm supposed to buy and sell when I don't know what's going on?"
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.
You forgot one
6. when the contract is signed, the govt will put it in the draw and tell you what to do whether it was in the contract or not. They will then complain when you want to charge them more. They will do nothing to determine whether or not you are complying with the contract and then whinge bitterly because you failed to meet one minor requirement which actually required them to provide information but they claim you should know as an expert provider of services to the government.
Re: You forgot one
I forgot a few....
7. During the duration of the contract, each clause will have the semantics of what is actually required drawn out to the nth + 1 degree to justify the govt having the titantium and gold plated option whereas other clauses such as "the govt will pay the supplier £1M on day X" will be subjective to endless govt debate as to what was exactly meant and whether the supplier has actually met their side of the deal.
8. When a new SRO is appointed six months into the contract, as the limitations of the original one are exposed, he/she will feel that their appointment is a perfectly legal excuse to draw up a new contract/T&C's/clauses as they don't feel the old one applies to them.
9. After three months the dept realises that what they actually wanted was something else, how it was the suppliers fault that the system doesn't do X (as it wasn't in the requirements), so every change is now a defect on the original. This is because defects are the suppliers fault, changes are the govt's and cost them money.
Oo oo oo, can I play?
My faves include:
1. Government hires loads of 'experts', usually health and safety.
.......on cost plus, who cost the Government more that the entire value of your contract.
.......who provide advice expert advice without any technical understanding of the technology being sold, and thus have zero understanding of the risks associated with that technology.
.......whose advice is plain wrong, but until you write pages of justification showing why they are wrong will mean you don't get paid.
2. Talking to Government commercial officer who did not understand how by adding 'just 1 requirement' to the procurement spec could double the costs. He honestly thought you could take cost of project, divide by number of requirements and come up with an additional cost per requirement figure.
Shouldn't really speak in public after a long boozy lunch
Working out where the risk is in government contracts is easy - it's on the taxpayer.
And if a commercial director can't work out why a supplier with contracts with 10 different departments might act as if they had contracts with 10 different departments then I can only guess we've returned to the days of Caligula and appointing horses (arses) as public officials.
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