Public-private collaboration in the management and delivery of service transformation projects was a topic of much debate during a plenary session at this year’s Lac Carling Congress. And while both government and private sector delegates got to voice their opinions, there was little resolution to central issues including leadership, requests for proposals (RFPs), procurement and partnerships.
The need for leadership in large service transformation projects drew a good deal of attention from the more than 200 delegates at the plenary session. Private sector representatives called for better government representation to deliver successful projects.
“Large transformation projects sometimes get broken down into separate entities and there is not always a full understanding of the linkages between these entities,” Bob Horwood, president of the Ontario chapter of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), told the plenary.
“In particular, the political sponsors of these transformational changes may not be fully appreciative all of the nuances. The question then is: How do we get and maintain the political involvement through large transformation projects?”
Private sector representatives also suggested that cabinet committees could move large transformation projects forward. Public sector delegates, however, didn’t find this appealing.
“We talked about this notion of elected officials being actively involved… and came to the realization that the politicians are akin to a board of directors,” a public sector delegate told the conference. “We really don’t know that we would say that the board of directors of the supplier company would be actively engaged with the board of directors of the government. That might be a bit of a problematic thing. We agree with the notion of a single point of contact, but are not quite convinced with the political involvement.”
Government delegates were amused to learn that industry representatives feel they understand the government and its processes (including RFPs) completely, but that the public sector doesn’t understand the private sector. Industry representatives also said that if government representatives could better understand the steps industry leaders go through in determining whether or not to bid on a project, and the process of determining risk in preparing a response to an RFP, this would result in improved project solutions and management.
When responding to the issue of RFPs, government delegates also touched on the issue of improved solutions and management. However, they were looking to each other to provide answers on how RFP details submitted by industry representatives could be excluded from access to information legislation.
“We’re not getting detailed responses from RFPs because of the access to information provisions, which essentially make whatever Vendor A submits as part of that process available to Vendor B and everybody else who wants to get information at the federal level,” a government delegate said.
“I think that’s something we’ve got to fix so that information provided by way of a formal RFP process is held in confidence. That would enable us in the government to get a much more detailed response from the vendor community without the vendor community fearing they may be giving us information that would be out on the street.”
Industry representatives also told the plenary that a process that measured value as opposed to hard dollars would be beneficial to both sides.
Some government delegates agreed with the idea and called for action in finding a better procurement practice.
“We’re all stuck with procurement processes that…aren’t designed to do the job,” one government representative said. “We’ve talked about the problem of procurement for decades and they’re just getting worse. One of the things that needs to be done is some studies on what permissible limits and alternatives could be constructed that operate within current trade operations, but still give us some flexibility.”
However, other government delegates said they believed that the current procurement process is fine the way it is. The only real problem lay in utilizing the process effectively so both parties could reach a favourable outcome.
“There are very few real impediments in the process of procurement,” one delegate told the congress. “The ability to have a pre-process that allows us to access the business case, the risk and the capacity of the vendor community to participat, is quite viable within the current process.
“We have options and I think what we need is a management fortitude to use the processes we have. What we find in general is that sometimes we are uncomfortable with taking advantage of the processes we have. Within the current trade rules we can do a lot, we just don’t do it.”
When it comes to working collaboratively on large service transformation projects, private sector delegates argued for building relationships over time to form true partnerships.
“One of the key parts to partnership is that it is a process that grows from trust,” Horwood said on behalf of the industry delegates. “We need a flexible continuum so that the relationship can grow – and as it grows we can mitigate risk. We need a framework that allows a partnership to evolve over time, so that lower in the continuum there is more of a customer-supplier relationship. Then, as milestones are achieved and the involvement increases, the degree of partnership [increases].
“But if it gets to where both sides are uncomfortable with where the partnership has arrived, they would perhaps need a mechanism where they could slide back down the continuum.”
Although there was no formal response to the idea of the partnership continuum from the public sector, there is no doubt that this suggestion – along with all other aspects of the P3 relationship – will be on the minds of delegates at Lac Carling 2004. And while it remains to be determined if public-private collaboration will be on the formal agenda, it will undoubtedly be debated in the hallways of the congress.
Blair McQuillan ( [email protected]) is assistant editor of CIO Governments’ Review.