There is no doubt that businesses and the public generally expect to engage with the Australian Government through technology and key government service functions, and are increasingly reliant on highly developed – ornovel – technology solutions. A key challenge for Government agencies is therefore ensuring that service delivery functions and programs have the technical and legal agility required to take-up innovations and fast-moving technology changes that have the potential to improve policy outcomes.

Government procurement of technology can be faced with particular challenges due to the fast-paced nature of technological change, continual innovation and changes in modern client (and user) expectations. To meet these challenges it is important that Government technology procurements are flexible and ‘future proofed’ as far as possible.

In this article we look at a number of legal and procurement strategies for Government agencies to increase agilityand potential value in the procurement of technology, particularly relating to the acquisition of innovative or noveltechnologies.

STRATEGY 1. EXPLORE OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH ‘PRE-TENDER’ ENGAGEMENT

Increasingly Government agencies are incorporating detailed market research and ‘engagement’ strategies into their procurement planning, particularly where there is a requirement for more novel or innovative technology solutions. Early (and on-going) engagement between Government purchasers and key sectors of the industry can be a vital part of ensuring an appropriate range of opportunities are identified as part of developing an agency’s technology procurement requirements.

Engagement activities of this type should not only be aimed at increasing an agency’s specific market awareness, but should be aimed at ‘challenging’ an agency’s pre-conceived ideas, as a means of seeking greater innovation in the overall solution requirement. In this regard, an agency may well consider various levels of direct and indirect industry engagement with various sized suppliers. This engagement may also extend to industry sectors operating outside traditional markets, as a way of promoting innovative and (potentially) transferable ideas and options.

Pre-tender industry engagements are not without legal and probity risks, which need to be carefully managed by Government purchasers. For example, where potential suppliers are given access to specific agency information, or are able to influence a particular agency’s procurement requirement to better suit their own solution, then there is a potential for unfairness in any subsequent competitive procurement process[1]. There is also a genuine risk that potential suppliers may claim proprietary or other legal restrictions over the further use of certain information and ideas ‘shared’ or disclosed as part of their involvement in such engagements. Legal risks may arise for Government agencies if they then try to disclose, use or adapt such information in a manner that is inconsistent with those restrictions. These risks increase the potential for supplier ‘lock-in’ which effectively limits a Government agency’s future ability to go to an open, competitive market for the technology, or otherwise engage other suppliers in the development and/or support of the relevant specification or solution.

It is therefore important that pre-tender engagement activities are undertaken according to clear protocols which identify and manage the relevant risks from the very beginning, while also maximising the opportunities for open and constructive market engagement.

Such protocols should explicitly deal with:

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STRATEGY 2. LOOK AT DIFFERENT PROCUREMENT OPTIONS

Government agencies have some flexibility in how they approach the market for any procurement and detailed consideration should be given to how best to structure the procurement approach, particularly where novel or innovative technology solutions are being procured.

The following approaches to market provide agencies greater flexibility in this regard.

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STRATEGY 3. CONSIDER CONTRACT MODELS THAT BETTER ‘CAPTURE’ POTENTIAL VALUE

In any procurement, the contracting model is critical to a Government agency achieving its particular procurement ‘goals’, as well as managing its associated risks. It is perhaps less recognised that the choice of contracting model can also be a key factor in identifying and capturing value. While ‘standard form’ contracts have a sensible place in ‘standard’ technology procurements, Government agencies should give consideration to alternative contracting models – including ‘collaborative’ models – for procurements that involve novel or highly developed technology.

For example, in contrast to a more traditional ‘fee-for-service’ contracting model, alternative models may provide opportunities for:

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IN CONCLUSION

Procurement considerations for Government agencies will vary depending on the scale, complexity, value and risk of the procurement activity being undertaken. Agencies should be alert to the procurement planning strategies and considerations outlined above, particularly in the context of ensuring that procurements are appropriately agile and, where necessary, can best leverage competitive market forces, technical knowledge and potential value.

When it comes to novel or innovative technology acquisition, ‘future proofing’ should be seen as an ongoing project objective rather than some form of contract deliverable. Through appropriate planning and diligence, Government agencies will be better informed and can leverage technology procurement opportunities that may arise.