It is an undeniable fact that the services are mostly supported by information systems. This trend, accelerated by the pandemic, has been registered for many years as a Government goal for the whole area of public services. It is also an evidence that the progress is clear, both in Central and Local Government.
But the services are not changing only by digitizing the interface. Upstream processes and information systems must be efficiently connected to take full advantage in reducing dispatch time, more correct and documented processing, greater transparency of the Administration for the citizens, better working conditions for employees and even support for remote working.
If, by definition, there is visibility at the interface (the openings made by politicians…), it is much less obvious whether the huge investments made in the development of applications and support systems have the expected return or whether they contribute decisively to a more efficient and effective Administration (a factor almost unanimously considered one of the barriers to the country’s development)
The Base Portal does a good job in listing the projects, but does not provide any information to evaluate their outcome, for example minimal information on start date, end date, contractual delays or, ideally, the evaluation of the outcome.
One of the worrying factors, which in my opinion restricts the digital transformation in the administration, has to do with the title of this article. Public Administration is governed by the code of public contracting procedures, which, despite several revisions, tends to be exactly the same whether it is for buying a computer system or for contracting a work to build a roundabout, or even for buying vehicles.
There is of course the possibility of creating specific and detailed requirements specifications, but not only is this exercise very difficult (often requiring external advice), it goes against Agile development principles and again, in my opinion, the requirements specifications created without the vision and commitment of implementation seldom capture the real needs. Not to mention the inability to assess whether a bidder who claims to do everything is genuine or just a way of presenting a price and getting the maximum score….
That said, what is the ruling trending for the decision? Such as for roundabouts, only the price. If for a roundabout or a car, the price criterion alone can be considered minimalist, for computer systems with their current complexity, it is synonymous with disaster and totally opposed to the good practices of decision making.
Failure to consider the skills of the teams, the technical or functional knowledge of the problem to be solved, the own or third-party products used, is against all the logic that can be found in the business market.
This problem can be minimized using a Pre-Qualification that is more objective in the evaluation of the competitors and even less litigious but, again in my opinion, it is little used by organizations because it means completing two procedures with a consequent increase in work and time.
When we foresee an huge investment in Government services we should not let this opportunity to have a mediocre result with the usual feeling that we have invested a lot but the final result regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of the Administration has evolved very little, as evidenced in the recent report on the preparation of the RRP (Recovery and Resilience Plan) after decades of investment, plans, public commitments, etc.
The solution is not obvious either, because contracting codes are legal constructs that will always be unsuited to areas with the exponential evolution of Technologies, but we simply should not let it go.
Short-termism should be challenged and pre-qualification procedures should be used by default, improving the criteria, curricula, certifications, training and experience in an objective, transparent and public way. The Government’s mechanisms of observation and transparency should also be significantly improved, in line with what I mentioned about the Base Portal, pushing for more accountability and transparency in the results.