The Defence Strategic Review: Where to from here for ASDEFCON tenders?
By Dr. Rodger Manning CPP.APMP
Having spent the last 15 years in the ASDEFCON tendering space helping more than 50 companies win Commonwealth Defence contracts, I eagerly awaited the recent release of the Australian Government’s Defence Strategic Review (DSR). From a professional standpoint it provides clear signposts for where my industry is heading and what needs to be front of mind for the Primes and SMEs I work with.
Having read it and digested the ensuing industry commentary, here are my thoughts.
Speed rules – but only for some
A key theme within the DSR is speed – getting much needed capability into the hands of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) when it needs it. One recommendation linked to this theme particularly caught my attention – the streamlining and acceleration of the capability acquisition process for projects designated as ‘strategically urgent or of low complexity.’
What’s interesting to me is that this recommendation targets only two types of procurement. Why not set loftier goals by considering how to drive efficiencies into all types of acquisitions? And to raise the stakes even further, why not also consider how potential changes could positively impact both sides of the acquisition coin – the Commonwealth and industry?
Flex the ASDEFCON framework
I believe that one component of capability acquisition that is ripe for improvement, from both an efficiency and effectiveness perspective, and across all acquisitions, is the ASDEFCON template suite used for the formal Approach to Market.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater. From a tendering perspective, there is a lot to like about the ASDEFCON framework. In particular, it provides a clear structure for the information requested by the Commonwealth, while also giving industry the freedom to decide on how best to present this information. This helps industry deliver compliant proposals while also enabling it to clearly communicate value for money against evaluation criteria.
And over recent years I’ve also seen some notable improvements which drive efficiencies into the submission process. For example, the change to compliance procedures which now require only non-compliances to be stipulated, and the reduction in the number of mandatory sections industry has to provide in draft plans.
How to remove three pain points
However, having helped many clients structure their submission using these templates, here are three suggestions for the Commonwealth to consider:
1. Simplifying the response requirements
A US defence company bidding into Australia for the first time once described the ASDEFCON RFT templates to me as ‘daunting’. It’s my view that at each acquisition stage, the Commonwealth should only request as much information as is required to differentiate between respondents and make down-select decisions for the next procurement stage.
For example, does relevant experience need to be requested across multiple Tender Deliverable Requirements (TDRs)? Is requiring lengthy draft plans, which all follow the same structure, really the best way to decide which company is offering the best solution? Should there be tighter page or word limits to responses?
And as an extreme example, I still see RFTs that require a draft Phase Out Plan. I can’t believe that any procurement organisation would make a decision on their preferred service provider based on how well that provider will exit the future contract and support the transition to an as yet unknown state.
2. Increasing supplier focus within the Commonwealth
When coaching industry, one of the most important concepts BidWrite teaches is customer focus, and more critically, how to achieve this in proposals. But it takes two to tango and on the flip side, I believe the Commonwealth could improve acquisition through operating with an elevated supplier focus, stimulated by a deeper understanding of how it can help industry. And often the most practical changes can be the most meaningful. For example, the Commonwealth could do the following:
- Ensure that all the information published for a particular acquisition can be easily understood. Too often, elements within the Statement of Work and questions within TDRs contain ambiguities, leaving industry to ponder what the Commonwealth is really asking for. This is inefficient for both parties.
- Enable effective industry governance and approval. Every company making a submission has their own review and approval process. What the Commonwealth asks for, how it asks for it and any changes made through subsequent addenda can all help or hinder the industry governance and approval process. Helping industry conduct more effective pre-submission reviews not only delivers better value for money, it can also significantly reduce risks associated with delivery.
3. A more collaborative approach to industry engagement
Probity shouldn’t be a barrier to the Commonwealth working with industry in a more collaborative manner before, during and after an Approach to Market. Two areas where I think the Commonwealth should pay particular attention are:
- Industry briefings – the Commonwealth’s current approach to conducting industry briefings and one-on-ones limit their value. I’d suggest this is because these engagement mechanisms are not premised on providing a confidential environment within which industry can ensure it fully understands every element of the Approach to Market. Although industry understands it can’t use these forums to ‘pre-test’ solutions with the Commonwealth, it’s in everyone’s interest that industry has effective face-to-face mechanisms to ensure it fully understands what is being asked for and why.
- Industry feedback – my overwhelming perception is that the Commonwealth uses the industry feedback process as a way to justify a procurement decision rather than an opportunity to provide constructive feedback to help industry improve. This results in industry not receiving the actionable feedback it needs to provide more competitive and fit-for-purpose proposals in the future.
Balancing the outcomes against the investment
Although there is plenty of devil in the details and the suggested methods for addressing these changes may vary, I believe that once implemented they would achieve the following five important and very practical outcomes:
- Shorter procurement timeframes
- Lower costs to industry
- Reduced barriers to entry, particularly for SMEs
- Better proposals that are easier to compare and therefore evaluate
- Stronger partnerships between the Commonwealth and industry.
That’s a healthy list of benefits for both sides of the Defence acquisition equation. On this basis, surely the outcomes outweigh the investment?