news Malcolm Turnbull’s Department of Communications has gone to market seeking a huge tranche of new consulting advice, on issues ranging from NBN Co’s renewed deal with Telstra to the composition and future of Australia’s ICT industry at large and for assistance regarding every technology category the department has any involvement in.
In the past, Turnbull has criticised the involvement of consulting firms in public sector work. For example, when the new Communications Minister and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann issued a revised Statement of Expectations to NBN Co in late September, Turnbull said with regard to NBN Co’s upcoming Strategic Review:
“It’s intended that the review will be conducted by the company. So it will be owned, if you like, by the board of the NBN Co and owned by the company. But it obviously will have the input of experts and advisers. But it’s not my intention to have a firm of consultants produce a review that is not owned by the people that then have to live with it an execute it.”
However, since the Coalition took office six weeks ago, both NBN Co and Turnbull’s Department of Communications have hired or sought to hire a large number of consultants for work in a range of areas.
For example, last week NBN Co revealed late last week that it would appoint three consulting firms to assist with its Strategic Review process. “Deloitte will provide governance and program management office services to ensure the Strategic Review fits within the parameters and tight deadline for submission set by the Government; KordaMentha will contribute to the analysis of the current NBN operational and financial performance; [and] Boston Consulting Group will participate in the review of the timing, financials and product offers under alternative models for delivering very fast broadband,” the company stated.
In new request for tender documents recently issued by the Department of Communications, it was revealed that the Department itself had also gone to market seeking a substantial amount of external help.
One request for tender document notes that the department is currently seeking to engage a “commercial and strategic advisor to provide it with commercial advice in relation to implementing revised arrangements between Telstra, NBN Co and the Commonwealth”.
Separately, the department is also seeking to set up what it describes as a “Technology Advice Panel” that will provide a range of specialised services to aid in its operations. The panel will have two main categories.
In the first category, outside assistance is required to provide the department with “research and analysis of the ICT industry”, on areas such as: Horizon scanning and forecasting; Technology developments (incl. hardware, software and processes) and their performance and impacts; Telecom and communications deployments, including migrations; Demand and supply side trends and drivers; Industry structure, alliances, partnerships, mergers and acquisitions; Key players and market segments; Regulatory and public policy issues; Modelling, costings and deployment plans; Sectoral and trans-sectoral ICT developments and deployments; Technical standardisation and associated trends, nationally, regionally and internationally; Provisions for telecommunications and communications in the built environment (e.g. pathway systems); and international comparisons and case studies in relation to any or all of the above.
The second category on the panel will seek testing, measurement and compliance assessments and advice. Those firms which respond to this category will be measuring and benchmarking ICT technologies and services, as well as conducting monitoring, auditing and acceptance testing activities, alongside diagnostics and results analysis and interpretation.
The areas of technology which the department needs advice on are extremely wide-reaching, including:
- Communications related civil works
- Wireline technologies and services, including submarine cable systems
- Wireless and radio frequency based technologies and services
- Satellite technologies and services
- Consumer access technologies for the disabled and/or disadvantaged
- Service provider infrastructure and systems including routers/switches, access and core network technologies/components and OSS/BSS systems
- Online content generation, analytics, management and delivery technologies
Cyber-security infrastructure technologies and services
- Online privacy, security and safety
- ICT Research & Development (R&D) and emerging technologies
- Digital media and online markets, applications and services
- Trends in consumer communications devices, services and technologies
- The delivery and provision of Internet protocol (IP) services including VoIP, IPTV, streaming media and IP traffic management systems
- Radio and TV content generation, management, broadcasting technologies and services
It appears that the department is seeking to set up an extremely wide-ranging service provider panel through which it will be able to engage both traditional consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group and so on, as well as specialist IT advisory and analysis firms such as Gartner, IDC, Ovum, Forrester and others. The result will be that whenever the department or Turnbull himself needs research in a certain area, it will be able to quickly request information in a certain area through drawing on the resources of the panel members — without issuing a separate request for tender.
The tendering initiatives have the potential to substantially increase the amount of money which the department and NBN Co spend on external consultancies. According to the department’s most recent annual report (PDF), its annual spend on consultancies has been rapidly declining over the past several years, after a high of $18 million was achieved during the height of the setup of NBN Co in 2010.
The appointment of the consultancy and advisory firms also comes despite the fact that both NBN Co and the department have substantial internal resources, with NBN Co employing close to 3,000 staff and the department boasting some 650 staff of its own.
Image credit (table): Department of Communications