Slim Vic eServices panel draws opposition ire

Victorian Shadow ICT Minister Adem Somyurek has slammed the state government's handling of its eServices panel, which has been reduced by 65 companies following a request for tender process.

Victorian Shadow ICT Minister Adem Somyurek has slammed the state government's handling of its eServices panel, which has been reduced by 65 companies, following a request for tender process.

The panel, set up in 2003, is made up of vendors that provide expert advice or support services to Victorian government agencies. The Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance periodically reviewed the panel, and updated it to allow for industry changes. However, the department put forth a request for tender on 23 February to establish a new panel, requiring all existing and prospective panel members to reapply.

As of March this year, prior to the tender process, 253 companies were listed on the eServices Panel. The new panel, which came into effect on 1 July, has been drastically slimmed, now consisting of only 188 companies.

Companies that have previously been on the panel and have now missed out are not happy, as it will mean that they lose out on contracts with the government.

"It will mean that companies, which are not on the panel, cannot bid or win any contracts with the Victorian Government for at least the next three years," Somyurek said in a statement.

During question time in parliament on Friday, Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips said that the number of companies appointed to the panel was based upon the evaluation of their individual tenders, and not a decision to cut or have a fixed number of companies.

Yet Somyurek said that the cutting down of the panel would result in companies heading to other states for business, and that Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu needed to step up.

"It has been a flawed process that now threatens Victoria's pre-eminence as the IT capital of Australia, and we can expect jobs and companies to head to NSW where Premier O'Farrell has put out the 'Open-for-Business' sign to IT companies," he said.

"Mr Baillieu needs to intervene and put a halt to this botched process, extend the life of the previous eServices panel, and undertake a proper consultative process with the sector and government departments and agencies."

AIIA chief executive Ian Birks said that the industry felt disappointed and confused, and had voiced concerns that the three-week evaluation period wasn't enough to fully evaluate all proposals. However, he stopped short of criticising the government for how it handled the tender process, saying that more understanding of the process is needed.

"We'll be talking to both the minister and the department. I don't want to prejudge any outcomes there. I think we need to have an open discussion with them to find out what their perspective is," he said.

"A number of industry companies are pretty disappointed with the outcome, particularly those companies that have a long history of providing good services to Victorian government departments who are no longer able to do that."

He said that there could have been better communication between industry and government.

"There's been no communication, I think, as to why anyone is on or off the panel. It's either a yes or a no. There's no explanation. I think a number of people are confused as to why," he said.

Birks also felt that the government should have engaged the IT industry more deeply in the tender process.

"The whole process seems to have been done in a very one-way communication manner. Any engagement between government and industry works best when you've got a collaborative and early engagement process. If industry is only called in to provide comments at the end of a process, then it's not going to be as effective as if they're part of the process throughout."

Rich-Phillips said that feedback would be given to the companies, and an evaluation of the tender process will be undertaken in due course, an initiative Birks has said sounded promising, but needs further discussion.

In the meantime, contracts between companies from the former panel and the government will continue until their expiry.