Understanding Federal Government ICT Contractor Tendering & Procuring in Canberra

By Ben Ashman, Founder, Recruitment Hive

It is important for a reader to understand that I’m not a federal government insider when it comes to understanding and explaining the federal government procurement processes and guidelines. I’ve only ever been an outsider, but an outsider I’ve been for more than twenty years.

Originally I was just a humble federal government ICT recruiter but have now grown into the founder and director of a federal government ICT contracting recruitment company that the ATO now categorises as a “big” business. I know a thing or two about federal government procurement rules and guidelines, but only from the outside. The inner workings of the federal government remain a mystery, despite all the time I’ve spent in its orbit.

Don’t try too hard

I suppose that is my first bit of advice about understanding federal government procurement rules and guidelines from the outside: don’t try too hard. Instead, try to find a way to bend with the federal government wind as it blows, dress appropriately when it rains, but most importantly to smile and make hay when the federal government procurement rules and guidelines shine upon you.

If you are a professional ICT contractor with a long history in the Canberra market you are surely sick and tired of responding to federal government Selection Criteria. The absolute worst thing you can do is expect to win an interview or contract offer from each and every Selection Criteria you address and submit via a recruitment agency for federal government consideration. If you sat waiting by the phone, day after day, week after week, and sadly, yes, month after month, for a call back for an interview for each and every federal government contract application you made, you would surely go mad and give ICT contracting a miss in Canberra entirely. So, instead (like me), develop a Zen like mindset to your applications and try not to see them as isolated instances of your professional self, but rather as a sum total of opportunity that you are increasing the resonance of within the universe of federal government procurement opportunities.

Or, if you prefer a Quantum physics analogy (as many IT professionals do) a successful application to an ICT contract offer in Canberra does not travel as a single instance, but rather more like a wave of opportunities through a federal government procurement field.

The point I’m trying to make is never rely, depend or get too emotionally invested in any one application to the federal government. Just like the universe is infinite, so too are the reasons as to why that one, single contract role you applied for has disappeared into a procurement black hole with no information escaping about it ever again.

It is the sum total of your application efforts that matter, not the individual instances. The wave of applications rather than the single particle on which success depends.

You may think this is frivolous advice, but here I still exist, a satellite to the federal government. Happy in my long contract orbit while many of the peers I worked with in my early career have bounced off of the procurement atmosphere and disappeared in a burning ball of flames into the darkness of space.

Now you know that type of mindset you need, promote your long-turn survivability under the hard conditions of federal government procurement what about the nuts and bolts?

The basic tenets of the federal government procurement rules and guidelines for ICT contractors are:

  • It obtains value for money for the Commonwealth and
  • Is merit-based and free from any bias.

The Federal Government Contracts and Procurement teams will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure both these objectives are met. Quite often the more extraordinary lengths are devoted to maintain point Two and quite often the measures taken negatively impact on point One. There are definitely times that the two are at odds with each, but as I said earlier, I do my best to limit my attempt to understand what is actually happening on the inside of federal government procurement. When I do find myself struggling to understand I try to re-instil my Zen like discipline to simply ebb and flow with the federal government procurement tide.

Value for money and fairness

So, value for money and fairness. They are the goals. The resulting practice is as follows.

Throughout the federal government there a small number of ICT Contractor Panels.

Coming to an end in Aug 2019 is the Dep of Human Services ICT Contractor Panel that, for the past eight years, has probably seen the highest number of ICT contractor Request for Quotation (RFQ) released. This DHS ICT Contractor panel was utilised by perhaps 10 – 20 other large federal government organisations, such as DFAT, Home Affairs, Dep of Health and many others. It was considered a Whole of Government (WoG) ICT contracting panel. Similarly, in 2017 the Dept. of Infrastructure and Regional Affairs (DIR) put together another WoG IT Contractor Panel that is now utilised by some of the biggest departments in place of the concluding DHS ICT Contractor panel.

The Digital Market Place, managed by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is also a major WoG procurement portal that most federal government organisations can use to release ICT contractor requirements to.

Further to these, other major federal government procurement panels that are utilised to engage ICT contractors are, Defence, Capability Sustainment Group (CASG), Defence Support Services (DSS) panel; and the Defence, Information & Communications Technology Provider Arrangement (ICTPA).

These are the main procurement mechanisms that the federal government uses to release ICT contractor roles to ICT contractor service providers (recruitment agencies).

The federal government does not engage ICT contractors directly. All ICT contractors engaged by the federal government must be done so through a recruitment company that is a member of an established ICT contractor procurement panel. This means that federal government panel members are gatekeepers to the contracting roles and cannot be circumnavigated by ICT professionals wanting to contract into federal government.

Each of the above listed WoG ICT contract panels have hundreds and hundreds of panel members. Most of the above listed panels would have at least 200 service provider members. While this provides the government with ample competition to ensure the Commonwealth obtains value for money it results in 5, 10 ,20 recruitment companies being issued with the same contract role at the same time.

If you are a sought-after ICT contractor in Canberra you will come to expect your phone ringing like crazy with up to twenty recruitment agents calling you at once for the same newly released contract role. I can only imagine a whole floor of Tax Office .NET Developer’s phone ringing like mad only moments after the Dep of Industry releases a 12 month .NET Developer contract role.

Never double up

With so many recruitment companies working the very same federal government ICT contract role things can very confusing as an ICT professional does not always record the RFQ number relating to a specific contract position, and can sometimes apply to the same contract position through multiple recruitment agencies.

This is something to avoid at all costs.

Most departments will decide not to consider a doubly represented applicant due to potential conflicts that might arise when the department tries to determine which recruitment agency is actually representing a particular applicant who has been submitted twice. Rather than get embroiled in a potentially sticky argument the department will generally decline to consider that application all together. Therefore, as an ICT contractor applying for federal government contracts in Canberra, it is crucial that you only give permission to one recruitment agency to submit your application for each contract opportunity. Keep track of who you are talking to about which roles (take note of each positions RFQ number) and only allow your application to be submitted by one recruitment agency for each contract position.

It is totally fine to submit your application to one RFQ in a department through one recruitment agency and then submit your application to the same department through another recruitment agency for a different contract position (as defined by a different RFQ number).

New ICT contract RFQ’s released by the federal government generally stay open for between one and two weeks. Once a submission deadline has passed there is no possibility of applying late.

From the point of submission, it generally takes about two weeks to receive requests for interviews back from the federal government. Interviews generally occur in weeks 3 & 4 post submission, with official offers of engagement being made from between 4 – 6 weeks of the submission deadline. These timeframes vary widely between departments, but provide a reasonable general expectation for you.

So now you, too, have The Understanding 😁