Consultation Draft RFT: TOMS

Author: 
Mundi Tomlinson
Category: 
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 I’m Mundi Tomlinson and I am the AGIMO acting branch head responsible for the procurement of a range of whole of government IT services including desktop hardware, software licences and telecommunications.  We’ve recently gone to the market for telecommunications invoice reconciliation services, mobile phones and the associated carriage, and internet based network connections. These are all in various stages of evaluation.

One of the challenges of this work is ensuring that we are asking for services that industry can actually provide. We do that by conducting market research and talking to industry and agencies. However, probity rules limit how much we can say unless we say it to everyone. Now, with the advantages provided by Gov 2.0, we can ask everyone.

There are a range of ways to do this – blog posts, wikis and crowd sourcing are among them. We’re  starting with a simple post and  a link to the draft RFT documentation for one of our telecommunications initiatives and asking interested readers, from industry or the general public, to offer their opinions and thoughts, either generally or specifically. To that end, as you’ll see, the draft document has line numbers so you can refer to specific areas.

This tender is for a Panel for the Provision of Telecommunications Operational Management Services which we call TOMS. TOMS covers integration and management of telecommunications services and some specific telecommunications and converged telecommunication/IT services. We will consider comments, suggestions, etc posted on this blog. If industry or individuals are more comfortable, they can email me at tomsblog@finance.gov.au. Our preference would be that items are posted directly to this blog; however, we will leave this to individuals to decide.

Nothing posted or mailed in response to this consultation draft will be taken into account by Finance when evaluating tenders -it is purely intended to help us improve the draft RFT. The blog will be open for comments for about two weeks. We will then consolidate the responses and issue the final version of the RFT via AusTender.

Now, the inevitable word from our lawyers, required as we explore these new ways of collaborating:

  • The Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance) is under no obligation to respond to any comments received in response to this process and reserves the right to publish or otherwise deal with any comments received in any way it wishes to.
  • In particular, Finance reserves the right to use, reproduce or disclose comments provided in connection with any subsequent procurement process and as required to meet government accountability or reporting requests or requirements.
  • In addition, Finance is under no obligation to change its Draft Requirements or any subsequent approach to the market (including an RFT process) as a result of this process and is under no obligation to release an RFT or to conduct any other procurement process.
  • If Finance does release an RFT or undertakes another form of approach to market after this process, Finance reserves the right to vary (including materially vary) the Draft Requirements in the approach to market documentation.

I look forward to receiving your feedback – both on the utility of this process and the draft RFT itself.

Mundi

TOMS RFT Consultation Draft

Comments (13)

Mundi, many thanks for the opportunity to provide feedback on this initiative. It is a great use of the Govt 2.0 approach.

One observation or question is why the focus is on “Operations Management”. Operations Management usually means just the on-going management of a particular service or function. What appears to be missing is a focus on Project Management. i.e. the work that usually has a finite scope, duration, beginning and end usually involving the introduction or implementation of an enhanced or new functionality, which in turn may need to managed, or transitioned into the existing or adjusted operational management service. You have a few areas of the scope that seem to overlap into Project Management domain – eg “Design and Specification” (which you have depicted in the Operational Management category in Figure 01 under Part F 103.1) and “Specialist Advisory” services in the service grouping. What appears to be missing are the actual “Implementation Services”. Is it your intention to include Project based services (such as project management, design, build, test and deploy) within the scope of the RFT?

Some of the service categories – eg IP Networks, Secure Services, Call Centre and Video Conferencing can certainly be addressed competitively by a range of technology vendors and partners that are not telecommunication carriers in the traditional sense. I do think the approach of not restricting yourself to only large scale managed services providers will open up the range of response you are likely to get as well as a range of options to suit agencies of different sizes and scales and sourcing strategies.

As far as the general structure of the contract and the RFT, it is largely consistent with other Government RFT’s and contracts and most companies used to dealing with Government should be prepared to respond to such a document.

Hi Mundi

Are you able to re-evaluate the 4 week response timeframe and extend it at all? Typically, an RFT is rushed, respondents are barely able to get the material out the door on time let alone add value or transfer intellect.

Kind Regards
Stuart Adam

It really could do with some kind of plain english summary of what it's about.

Hi Mundi,

This is an innovative way to use the technology and I fully support your initiative.

As a public servant by day but having in the past been in the position of responding to RFTs for government, I am offering a perspective from both sides of the fence.

I have observed that different government departments often seek to procure similar or identical systems (HR, CMS, telephone, IT services, etc), however each department creates its own RFTs separate to the others. There appears to be limited cross-fertilisation or standardisation of how the same requirement is written, making it difficult for vendors to sometimes understand and interpret the key requirements.

To make it easier for vendors, if there could be a government 'playbook' of key requirements which could be shared and used by departments where relevant, this could make it easier and faster for vendors to understand the requirements and craft their responses.

Naturally there can be substantial differences in requirements as well, but if each requirement could be captured in a central place online and be searchable it would reduce the need to re-invent the wheel - departments could simply look for requirements similar to their needs from past processes across government, reducing their effort and timeframes.

Expanding this further, a system such as Austender could be extended to support agencies in creating their RFTs to cross-government standards and could also support vendors (particularly smaller ones and those with less resources experienced in government responses) to construct their responses - to the extent of allowing them to store partial responses in the system with their set replies to set requirements (which they could review and modify each time, but would not need to rewrite).

Given the quality range in tender responses I've seen, using this kind of online system to help vendors respond in the right way would both help their chances in the process, cut out those vendors who cannot meet the requirements and make it easier to assess apples with apples - saving time for government as well as for vendors.

Moving on to the tender in question, I have a few questions...

1) Why must tender responses be lodged in Microsoft Word or Excel format? Yes this may be more convenient for the Department, but does it constitute an endorsement of a proprietary system. As more organisations adopt alternatives, such as Open Office and Google Docs, this could become a barrier to some organisations who would need to purchase and operate specific systems simply for purposes of government tenders.

2) There seem to be a lot of limits - to file size, character use, name length, etc that are based on the system in use rather than on the additional quality they will add to the RFTs. I think it is important to revisit whether these restrictions are fair or appropriate. Given no system will handle anything, however given this is a tender process, not a process of complying with the specific technical restrictions of a given system. Perhaps greater funding to address the system limits will lower the perceived barriers for participating in an already complex and high-governance tender process and result in more and better responses.

3) Funds to assist tenderers in responding. While it would generally not be appropriate for large organisations, with dedicated tender teams, to receive any form of reimbursement for their efforts in responding to a tender, I have often considered what it is like for smaller organisations who face an ongoing struggle to balance tender requirements with work commitments. Smaller entitites, who may have excellent products and services, often restrict their tender responses as they simply cannot afford to take people offline for the time required for a response to a sophisticated government RFT. If there was any way to support the involvement of small - medium business in tendering to government contracts, even a token amount, this might significantly support the government's position of seeking a level playing field and empower Australian small business to compete more freely against their well-resourced large (and often international) rivals. A bit of a controversial area I know, but one which may be worth considering or piloting to see whether it has a measurable impact on the ROI of tender processes and support for the Australian business community.

4) Addressing tenderer questions. Often companies will ask the tendering agencies questions to clarify tender requirements - or seek information to benefit their response. For probity reasons government needs to be make responses available to all companies tendering as a matter of course, but generally not make visible the identity of the organisations making these requests. This process could be greatly facilitated through closed online forums attached to each tender process, which allow vendors to pose anonymous questions and the department to respond - without the level of structure required for a 'tender addendum'. Any new organisations entering the tender process could gain access to all the past discussion to inform their involvement, and the questions and answers could be made available for public scrutiny during, or after, the tender process as was appropriate. This would cut down the time required to respond to vendor questions and therefore, as tenders are time-limited processes, maximise the ability for vendors to absorb the responses and make changes to their tenders before deadline.

5) Plain english summary. I concur with Steve that a plain english summary for each tender would be very beneficial, combined with a standard metadata tagging approach on tender keywords. Given the number of government tenders released at all three levels, plus commercial tenders, any mechanisms that help potential respondents to very quickly review and assess whether they wish to commit time to a response will aid vendors and potentially increase the quality of responses. Personally I monitor tenders in Austender (so I can retain copies of tenders on topics which my area may tender in the future - so I can personally cross-reference requirements and processes) - and it is hard to quickly assess what some tenders are for without reading the tender in detail. This tender could certainly benefit from a plain english summary - which does not replace any of the necessary clauses or disclaimers already in the document.

6) Ordering of information. Given that the actual details of what this tender is for is in Part F (Statement of Requirements), and there are over 60 pages of legal guidance and 'how to respond' information before this, I think the tender could be more effectively structured to place the requirements up front and the 'how to' at the back. Given my past experience in submitting tenders, I would start at the statement of requirements to see if I am able, and willing, to respond - then review the legal framework, details for responding and timeframes. Simply re-ordering the document could increase the quality of responses - particularly amongst organisations less familiar with government tenders (but very competent in their service areas).

Again, it is fantastic that we are beginning to open the process to scrutiny in the interests of both saving government money (through having incomplete or poor quality responses to assess) and saving commercial entities money and time (in being better able to quickly and effectively provide quality tender responses).

I hope you are able to promote this initiative to the list of companies registered as interested in participating in tender responses (through AusTender), or consultations (through the Business Consultation website).

Cheers,

Craig

Hi Mundi,

You may as well pull the pin on the blog now, you don't need to go any further.....Craig has hit the nail on the head on every aspect of Government tenders.
Being a novice tender writing assistant, I found the whole process rather bizarre. As Craig said, after sifting through pages of 'how to' cluases, we find the page that matters to us, only to find it seemed the focus was not on the ability of the tenderer to provide the service required but whether they could summarise the benefits of said service in 25 words or less. (I over dramatise, but you get my meaning!) not to mention trying to ascertain what the deliverables actually were...

I applaud what you are trying to achieve and agree whole heartedly with the comments Craig has so succinctly worded. Good job Craig.

Hello Mundi,
Here is a point of view from an SME. As with this TOMS tender, I see that there would be value to the tender from our organisation's input, but it is a small component, a cog, not actually even asked for in the tender. As a specialist in our field (planning and running virtual meetings and other virtual activities), I can see how what we do, would be an integral part of the "big" part of a tender - project teams needing to collaborate, specialists needing to "be" in meetings but virtually located; leaders needing the skills to run productive meetings; travel budgets needing to be reduced, but outcomes needing to be maintained etc etc.
I also see the tender, and Gov 2.0 is seeking input from SMEs. The overhead required for us to input into a tender is usually too big, even for a Panel, because what we offer is often a cog, not the wheel! Yes we can collaborate with a larger organisation, and do, and we can subcontract. And we do input - for example via questions for RFT Addenda to try to stimulate broader thinking (eg Does the training HAVE to be done face to face?).

Suggestion: What would greatly help our input into the tender process would be a simple section in the tender.. just for SMEs to complete and respond!! An open question perhaps.. Is there anything additional in this contract that you, as an SME, can offer which would enhance the outcomes of this RFT? Or some similar questions. An SME response area will raise the level of innovation for the project, open up the minds (as you have done by this forum Mundi), and provide a supported opportunity for the SME to engage.
We need to feel that the words "encourage SMEs" are matched with appropriate language and empathetic requirements in the tender, and a genuine desire and mechanism to seek input from SMEs.

Thank you Mundi for so appropriately creating a mechanism for engaging SMEs and the wider tendering community.

Nigel

Hi Mundi,
1. Having looked at the recent IBNC RFP, I cannot help noticing some areas of potential overlap.
Could AGIMO explain what is the interface/delimitation between VCMS providers under IBNC and TOMS-Multi-sourced Integration & Management Services providers, in particular in reference to the "requirements, analysis and specification of telecommunication services"? Will the TOMS provider in this case represent the agency and interact with the VCMS provider on its behalf?

2. Another point of interest regards the contractual arrangements. IBNC proposed a quite novel contractual framework - is it likely that TOMS will use similar arrangements?

3. Finally, can you elaborate on the purpose and functioning of this panel?
3a. On the purpose side, I understand the comfort provided by aligning all relevant providers under a common framework with a consistent contract and pricing methodology.
However, for providers, is there any benefit in being part of the panel - e.g. reduced tendering costs, faster turn-around in decision making process, etc, or should this be accepted as the way government does business?
3b. On the functioning side, there is a different set of considerations.
Surely, to make it worthwhile for the government, it requires a lifespan of at least three years. However, with current developments in the ICT & telco industry, quite a few aspects of the offering will change during this time. The TOMS Applications services group mentions some in-built flexibility to cater for that. However, this is only the case for the suppliers on the panel.
Is there any mechanism envisaged that can cater for new organisations with relevant capabilities that may form or wish to engage over this period?

Thanks

Hello,

Could AGIMO please address the following:

Q1. Missing documents from the draft RFT:
a. The draft for comments does not include any of the templates that the tenderers are required to use as part of their response. Could you provide the templates for comments as this will ensure that tenderers have a firm understanding of the scope and are able to comment on that and also to allocate the resources required for the response period.
b. The draft for comments does not include the contract to be used for the RFT. Could you provide the contract for comments? Otherwise, is it possible to indicate if the contract will be different from previous ones and if so in what areas can we anticipate change? This will allow tenderers to comment and to allocate the resources required for the response period to review the contract.
Q2. Procurement and Operational Provision of TOMS Applications
Clause 106.1 of Part F (lines 110-111) states that TOMS Applications “focuses on the provision of telecommunications and converged telecommunication/IT services”. In contrast, clauses 107.6-107.8 (lines 152-164) seem to exclude the operational provision of the services. Can you please provide clarification?
In particular, clause 107.6 (lines 152-154) states that full service delivery “may include integration, operational management, service desk and the provision of related support resources”. This does not cover the procurement and operational provision of TOMS Applications.
Is it Finance’s intention to include the procurement and provision of TOMS Applications under this panel, or is the panel restricted to the operational management of applications procured and provisioned under different arrangements. If the procurement and provision of TOMS Applications is under this panel, what service category is intended to cover these activities and what specific applications (if any) will be included in the initial RFT to establish the panel ?
Q3. References
Given the wide scope of services and TOMS Applications, does Finance intend for tenderers to submit 3 references against each service category or TOM Application they include a response for, or are tenderers required to submit only 3 references in total for their response?

Hi. Could you possibly change the track-back to the site which actually posted that story -- Computerworld Australia?

Not sure what Gov 2.0 and canoes have in common; aside from certain departments being up the proverbial creek...

In addition to the points above, could AGIMO provide further clarifications as follows:

•Clause 54 (Australian Industry Participation Plan) - clarification as to whether tenderers are required to have an Innovation approved plan before lodgement of the RFT. If so, it is usual to be a condition of participation.
•Clause 61.3 (Improper Assistance) - clarification of what improper assistance from an "ex-employee of Finance or other Agency or contractors or ex-contractors of Finance or other Agency" would be and extend to?
•Clause 73.4 (Financial Viability and Cost Checks) - clarification that 73.4 does not allow Finance to have access to the profit margins of tenderers and related body corporate officers, employees, agents and advisers as part of a cost investigation of tendered prices.
•Clause 79.6 (Minimum Lodgement Requirements) - clarification as to why references to clauses 14, 15 and 20 (file format, scanned material and late tenders) are included as minimum content requirements.
•Clause 86 (Conforming Tender) - clarification of the consequences of not submitting a conforming tender (which may still meet the Mandatory Content requirements).
•Part F (Statement of Requirements) - clarification of the Services to be provided, including examples of discrete service offerings that would be provided under this panel arrangement. The definition of TOMS Application is not helpful in this regard. Presently, it is difficult to determine what Services are being procured. A more precise and clear description of the scope of Services and examples of service offerings would assist in enabling respondents to provide pricing other than a schedule of rates. In particular, it is not clear whether the TOMS Applications involve the provision of an underlying service, or just management of the provision of that service.
•Part F (Statement of Requirements) - clarification of the scope of this RFT in relation to the previous procurements, especially the IBNC RFP.

Hi Mundi,
I will be responsible for completing my companys response to this RFT once it is released (with input from relevant expertise within my organisation). Some feedback from our perspective:
- Releasing draft RFT via this blog has started discussion and planning both within my organisation and other relevant industry contacts.Thats a good thing :)
- As a niche specialist, the Draft RFT provides catagories that are relevant and attractive to my organisation.
- Providing Blank spaces in the response templates would be preffered to tables/boxes, where a descriptive response is required. That is, I hope I wont have to spend extra hours wrestling with boxes, columns, formatting rules in the response template where not absolutely necessary.
- It is estimated that my company will invest approx 24 to 30 hours directly related to a response to this RFT, once released.

Dear Mundi

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this RFT.

I most certainly see merit in setting up a panel of this type.

My interest is to see that the panel is representative of all of Australia by ensuring participation of Indigenous owned businesses.

Ideally this tender would comply with recent policy announcements about Indigenous business participation in Government tenders as well as the Governments 10 year plan to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

I look forward to seeing the final RFT.

Yours sincerely

Michael McLeod
CEO Message Stick Group

Gibson Quai-AAS, based on having undertaken market research via research house Telsyte, acknowledges the importance of recognising the need to report on application usage, rather than pure carriage service tracking. Telsyte research indicates that certain segments of market are already heading down the path of procuring Application/Software As a Service (SAS) based procurement over carriage.
Gibson Quai-AAS believes the foresight into this emerging arena will inherently provide you with an enhanced ability to manage telecommunications better, as application procurement becomes main stream. However, we also recognise that the solution can only be as good as the information used to produce it. Therefore, it will be imperative to define these requirements and the level of visibility you require upfront with your Service Providers.
Additionally, we have constructed a few recommendations that can improve this process.
•Statements regarding the scope of requirements (Cl 103 – 108, pp 63 – 66) call for greater detail as they are currently quite cloudy. This can potentially reduce a respondent’s ability to successfully judge the depth to which they should go, in describing their services and in providing a confident response to meet Finance’s evaluation criteria. Finance should consider increasing the depth of the specification of the scope of the requirements.
•Proprietary information within the tender becoming the property of Finance as stated in Clause 39.1 presents a potentially critical problem, as organisations may be deterred from providing all relevant information due to these restrictions.
•Clause 62.4 requires more detail as the current “is not encouraged” phrase provides modest guidance to respondents.
•Clause 99.4 may cause cluttered responses due to the requirement of two pricing options. If the tenderer was to provide one option, it would limit the amount of possible clutter severely.
•There are mismatches between the text in Figure 01 (page 63) and the subsequent text. Eg the figure states “Design and Specification” while the text states “Requirements analysis, design and specification of telecommunication services”; the figure refers to “Operational Management Activities” and Underlying Services” while the text refers to “Multi-sourced integration and management and TOMS Applications”. The parenthesis at the right of Figure 01 is incorrectly aligned with the text and the wording of the “Underlying Services” does not match the wording of the TOMS applications at Cl 106.
•A Pricing Response Template should also be supplied as it may improve the accuracy of respondents pricing. For example, it would allow respondents to effectively judge whether their current pricing models fits with the template.
•The above recommendation also applies to Finance presenting “Technical Capability and Experience Response Templates” as they can potentially increase the ability of a respondent to successfully judge the scope and depth of their response.

In conclusion, the purpose of this document is refreshing and innovating, it will aid Finance in securing the best possible arrangement. However, the lack of detailed scope definition and pricing format within the document leaves the potential respondent with an excessive degree of uncertainty and imposes risk on both the respondent and Finance.

Last updated: 24 January 2018