09 May A coordinated approach to government procurement
There are a number of impediments to better coordination of government procurement practices. Five of the more important challenges are outlined below:
The Commonwealth, States and Territories all run versions of Cabinet Government.
Ministers essentially compete for resources for the departments and agencies for which they are responsible. One measure of success of a Minister is the extent that the funding sought through the Budget process is actually allocated. These arrangements, in principle and in practice, do not necessarily promote a climate or an imperative for collaboration. Indeed, the reverse can be true. The process is competitive and the outcomes zero-sum.
Where coordinated procurement has occurred, such as in the arrangements between the Departments of Defence and Transport to establish a national air traffic control and management system, coordination processes can introduce their own delays and, from the point of view of procurement, inefficiencies.
Are higher value contracts desirable? An outcome of improved coordination might be fewer contracts overall, with those being let of higher value. This may be attractive to governments because overall bidding and contact management overheads may well be reduced and successful SME’s will be able to grow substantially. The downside is that many SMEs, notably in the spatial sector, might struggle to compete against their larger competitors. This development requires careful management.
Dual Use Technologies and Dealing with Classified Projects
Defence is the largest Commonwealth consumer of space and spatial goods and services. This is unlikely to change any time soon. However, both the intelligence community and the Department of Home Affairs have strengthening commitments in space and spatial services. The former has recently purchased a satellite in order to research the advantages of edge processing and the latter, especially through its critical infrastructure protection responsibilities, is seeking to mitigate the impacts on Australian society and the economy of the loss of access to space and spatial services. By definition, space is a dual use environment and, as noted above, much of what Australia does and does not do in space occurs within the context of Australia’s alliance with
the US. Spatial services, for example, although provided increasingly from commercially derived data quickly fall into the classified domain when Defence is the customer. This presents multiple problems for all companies, SMEs in particular. These include:
- The cost and difficulty of obtaining and retaining the high-level security clearances for staff who conduct space and spatial business with Defence, the national intelligence community, and the Department of Home Affairs as well.
- The cost and difficulty of gaining accreditation under the Defence Industrial Security Program (DISP), which mandates a series of personnel, physical, cyber and other protective security measures that must be met.
- The cost and difficulty in handling US export-controlled data that may be released to Australia and that may be essential to a company’s capability to execute a particular contract. Much space and spatially related activity in Australia needs to be cognisant of US export controls.
- Associated limitations on seeking to export some products and services because they contain components that have been released to Australia by the United States in the understanding that they not be released to any other country, at least not without the approval of the US Government.
Commonwealth space and spatial procurements made by Departments and agencies other than those listed above do not attract these security overheads, which is an argument for separation rather than coordination of some space and spatial procurements.
The States and Territories
Turning to the States and territories, they have prime responsibility for industry development and for land management within their jurisdictions, although in practice these responsibilities are shared with the Commonwealth as well. Emergency management (notably the planning for, response to and recovery from floods and fires) is one area that attracts considerable attention in terms of calls for better coordination between jurisdictions, including in space and spatial matters.
Emergency management authorities seek data, from many sources including from databases (to understand trends and variations), satellites, aerial sensors and ground sensors. A frequent comment is that emergency management authorities struggle to make best use of the remote sensing data that is at their disposal. The NSW Inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfires has made this point and recommended (Recommendation 4, p vii) the establishment of a “spatial technology acceleration program” . The issue is not so much with the data but with the culture and understanding of emergency management staff. There is an important end-user training and confidence building task to be undertaken if data currently available, let alone data that may be available in future, is to be used to its full potential.
Of note, the NSW Inquiry report recommended “a single whole-of-government procurement and acquisition program for imagery and LiDAR and that the Government accelerate the building of the State Digital Twin and associated Digital Workbench” (Rec 18, p ix).
A Commercial View
Australia, mainly through the efforts of GA, has comprehensive coverage of the Australian continent dating from the 1970s. Numerous companies have tried unsuccessfully to convince Australia to invest in its own fleet of earth observation satellites and to purchase a variety of spatial data products on long term contracts. These efforts have met with only limited success. Recent experience suggests that space companies that seek to serve just the Australian market will struggle to succeed because there will be insufficient demand to sustain the business. This pessimistic scenario may change if Governments wish to develop a stronger sovereign capability and recognise that there may be additional costs to do so. Without such support, Australian space companies must have an export-oriented mindset and a global
business proposition (such as those of Myriota, Skykraft and Fleet) to have any realistic chance of stablishing enduring business success.
The spatial sector is dominated by small companies that serve small numbers of clients mainly in local markets. There are industry sectors in Australia, that may increase productivity if they made better use of spatial data. These opportunities, however, are limited and niche.
OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH
Jurisdictions are increasingly recognising the need for improved procurement. For example ANZLIC supports a shift to whole-of-government and whole-of-jurisdictional thinking, enterprise- wide. ANZLIC sees that this has the potential to yield some substantial benefits including a national approach to imagery acquisition, more certainty for providers, promotion of big data analytics rather than small, piece-meal processing, more effective use of public funds procurement of imagery, and licencing of commercially available analytics software.
Similarly, defence has a potentially very significant role in this regard as explained more fully in the issue on improving the growth environment for SME’s and large corporates (see Issue 5.4).
The various reports produced in the aftermath of the bushfires of the 2019-20 summer have done much to normalise the fact of climate change in the Australian body politic and in political discourse. Whilst some still question the importance or relevance of anthropogenic influences, those voices are diminishing, leading to the potential for more considered debate about climate and energy policy and the links between the two. This changing dynamic offers the space and spatial sectors an opportunity to dispassionately and carefully place data before politicians, officials and the broader public that shows change and impact (including evidence of recovery especially as a result of the present La Nina cycle).
There may be opportunities to revisit Australia’s use of offsets as well.
This section sets aside Defence procurement in both the space and spatial sectors. Issues and opportunities from this specific issue are addressed elsewhere.
Actions that might lead to jurisdictions making more effective use of space and spatial service include:
1. Adopting and broadening the concept proposed in the NSW Bushfire inquiry of a spatial technology acceleration program. A vital element of this program is to inform and educate end users across government of the uses and value of remote sensing data. To have any chance of success, this would be a multi-level program with briefings offered to Ministers and MPs, and to senior departmental and agency officials. Business benefits, not technology, would need to be the emphasis of this program. It should be vendor neutral and could be delivered under the auspices of the SIAA and SIBA – GITA.
2. Facilitating more assistance to the Australian Space Agency in order that it has greater capacity to provide assistance to space companies to obtain launch licences and related approvals.
3. Developing industry wide views on what sovereign space and spatial sectors would do and not do and how big these sectors would need to be to meet test of necessity and sufficiency.
4. Providing further encouragement to the Commonwealth to develop national policy with respect to space exploration that is then resourced, funded and managed over an extended period to give companies the certainty they need to invest in long lead time technologies, specialist tools and facilities and appropriately trained and qualified people.