The Role of Public Procurement in Digital Transformation

In a world where digital access and inclusiveness have never been more important for most citizens, the Digital Impact Alliance’s (DIAL) new five year strategy will seek to accelerate the number of digital transformation exemplars. This means build a global movement that unifies partners around a common vision and expand the availability of proven solutions for procurers so that countries can connect proven digital platforms and use data responsibly to achieve the SDGs by 2030. 

In laying out our strategy we recognize that good public sector investment decisions underpin successful national digital transformation. Today, the norm for many governments is to juggle understanding and responding to citizen’s technology needs, while simultaneously supporting and enabling the development of a robust digital economy. All whilst managing rapidly changing policy agendas impacted by global actors and events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. These factors are compounded by the dynamic nature of digital, making investment decisions increasingly more complex. Public procurement is a fundamental element of a government’s investment strategy and a crucial pillar to delivering on national digital transformation. Our approach to supporting public procurement of digital technology now and in our future strategy is outlined here. 

Supporting Public Procurement of Digital Transformation 

DIAL has recently selected Deloitte to work with us on the development of a toolset to support governments in low resource settings improve their digital technology procurement outcomes. We have actively chosen government procurers as the key audience of this toolset because we believe their empowerment can influence longer-term outcomes through buying decisions made today.   

This decision is grounded in our own landscaping analysis and a listening study DIAL has supported this year across ten African countries. We’ve heard from governments that while they desire a whole-of-government approach to investing in digital, they continue to struggle with siloed and uncoordinated programs across numerous line ministries that are not scalable and deliver poor value for money and  return on investment. We’ve summarized some key high-level findings below:  

  • While ministries responsible for ICT (where they exist) do provide specialised support, many other ministries across government are free to select their own standards and partners for implementation, resulting in fragmentation and a plethora of individual solutions.   
  • Achieving efficiency while providing accessibility to digital technologies by all citizens at a reasonable cost is difficult.  
  • Public procurers struggle with understanding aspects of technology transfer, license management, and maintenance arrangements.  
  • Some degree of coordination and aggregated buying has been achieved in IT hardware, and here some governments have seen the benefit in terms of standardization and reduced cost but do not know how to extend the practice to broader digital services. 

Guide for Procurers 

Our plan is to develop a Category Guide for Procurement of Digital Technology that will assist public procurers understand the markets for digital technology as well as help the public sector make more informed investment decisions that contribute to achievement of national transformation. By making this investment, DIAL aims to raise awareness in several areas:  

  • Encourage governments to recognize that public procurement is an important part in achieving transformation and development goals. 
  • Raise awareness that digital is a procurement specialization that requires dedicated expertise. 
  • Encourage harmonizing approaches to procurement of digital in line with practices that have been shown to work. 
  • Improve value for money and return on investment understanding and outcomes.  
  • Attract supply options to these government settings through better formulated buying requirements. 

In the following weeks, DIAL will follow-up with a with an example of how the Category Guide for Procurement of Digital Technology might be used. We will share some early ideas about what the guide may include and share some insights on where this work could go next.