SITA eyes automated processes amid tender backlog

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 06 Oct 2020

The State IT Agency (SITA) was not created to replicate the same paper-based procurement process of government departments.

This is according to SITA’s executive caretaker and administrative authority, Luvuyo Keyise, talking to ITWeb. He was commenting on having to deal with a backlog of 410 historical tenders upon joining the agency last December.

Keyise was brought on board to lead the agency’s repurposing strategy from being a purely government “procurement agency” into a new digital transformation agency, as envisioned by the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies.

The administrator strongly believes automated and simplified tendering processes would have accelerated awarding the tenders, whose value runs in the 100s of millions. Furthermore, the delays mean both departments and industry lose out.

The initial 410 historical tenders that were not concluded are now sitting at less than 100, with the plan to make sure the process is concluded by the end of November, at least, he reveals.

“We want to clear up all historic tenders, so that there is nothing historic by December. This means all contracts from this year and prior years – all of them should be awarded.

“In spite of COVID-19 and the implication of the virus, the historic tenders (at least 70%) have been dealt with – we would have concluded those by end-June if COVID-19 did not happen.”

Automate the way forward

Asked whether he believes there are opportunities for the tendering process to be completely automated, Keyise advocates that “it must be”.

By continuing the paper-based procurement process, SITA is not adding any value and only making processes longer, he adds.

“SITA should be automating its processes not just for normal things of people to buy, but it should be focusing on creating framework agreements or transversal contracts.

“SITA should be more proactive in terms of the types of tenders that it creates, or capabilities that it creates for government departments to choose from them.”

He notes there have been initiatives to automate the tendering or procurement processes, and SITA has spent a lot of money. However, at this point, they have not yet yielded results.

“I can confirm there are now real plans to ensure this financial year does not end with us not having automated some of the tender processes.”

This plan, notes Keyise, is for the most basic processes. “Ideally, what government departments should be asking SITA is not just to say ‘please publish this tender and start the whole process of running it’, there should already be basic automated things.

“For instance, if a department wants to buy a PC, it should be able to choose from what is out there automatically. It should be a process like choosing from a shopping list – where everything is pre-populated by SITA; that’s the role of SITA.

“SITA should be creating all of these transversal agreements – that should be its focus. Automate it and put it in a basket so that if a department wants to buy something, it doesn’t have to ask for a new tender but be able to choose from things that are already there with clear pricing.”

Keyise points out that currently, practical things like procuring a telephone or a data line require a tender.

“We are already starting the automation processes,” he indicates. “We have started it in-house first and the plan is to complete that for SITA’s in-house management of its procurement services by this financial year. The next financial year, we should then start looking at how to make it visible and accessible for our clients to interact with us electronically in terms of the procurement phase.”

End of corruption?

For SITA, which, in the past, has admitted tolarge-scale corruptionin terms of its procurement practices, automation can root out the corruption, according to Keyise.

The administrator explains that corruption is a number of things. “The basics for corruption in procurement are not the end process; it starts with the type of tender specifications that are already being written – this is part of the problems for SITA.

“This is when you notice that part of the specs have already been pre-determined for specific companies where SITA is not playing its strategic advisory role, to say to a government department: ‘this type of spec is not broad enough, it’s not responsive enough for it to be able to be fair to everybody else in the market.’

“We are now refocusing to ensure we stop publishing these types of specs whereby you notice that they, more or less, favour specific entities – this is the first part that is being addressed. Whether tender processes are automated or not – there needs to be clear governance, otherwise the end result will be the same.”

The second part, he says, is the ongoing lifestyle audits of everybody who is involved in procurement. “We’ve already done this for every executive at SITA. We do constant lifestyle audits and for everyone in supply chain management.

“An automated tendering process will help build in the rules on how to put in scores, how to aggregate scores and how to ensure there is proof as to why a certain company is receiving a certain score. An electronic process…must also have pre-built rules that are fair, objective and aligned to the specific functionalities.”

Automation is not the only thing; fix the basics so that what is put in an automated solution has integrity, advises Keyise. “As much as you automate, make sure the people that will be putting these business rules in an automated solution have integrity too.”