Separating fact from opinion: the key to true transparency*

“You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” 

It’s a quote often attributed to the late, great US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in four successive presidential administrations, including that of John F. Kennedy. He’s someone who knew the value of facts over hunches when it came to proper administration, and particularly government administration.

In government, whether federal, state or local, facts mean the difference between transparency and the appearance of impropriety. This applies equally to procurement. There’s no space for hunches when it comes to managing public purse spend, especially when in today’s age every stage in the process can be accounted for and recorded. Procurement professionals don’t need to be placed in the difficult position of whether they think an addendum was mailed out, or a submission was received on time. It either happened or it didn’t. Facts are final in the procurement game.

Understandably, even when administered with the best intentions, the manual procurement process is fraught with pitfalls. A simple oversight in which an addendum is not sent – or even not received – can lead to a full audit of the process itself, where every stage is reviewed with the fine-toothed comb of probity and any slip ups can lead to a questioning of the process, often accompanied by accusations being levelled at those charged with undertaking it.

It’s why many local governments have turned much of the procurement process over to digital toolsets, in which every step is recorded automatically. For instance, an addendum is drafted and at one touch of a button is emailed to everyone who’s registered an interest in the project. Downloaded and uploaded documents are time-stamped to ensure there’s no debate about when those documents were received. And nothing needs to be photocopied because, well, there’s no paper.

These toolsets are removing the need to rely on hunches, and is making every step of the process a fact in itself. Governments and enterprises across the country now realise that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and toolsets are available to take the probity pressures away from procurement professionals, leaving them free to do other things, such as making the best, most informed decision on their tender.

Additionally, the very use of a digital system ensures that an organisation protects itself by removing the possibility of others creating their own facts.

One such organisation is Cairns Airport. Much like any organisation, the work needed to keep an airport running smoothly is significant, with many of the tasks significant in scope. But as is the case with any large-scale procurement projects, challenges lie in the tender process itself, which is traditionally slow, lacks automation and requires the recording and subsequent dissemination of all communications manually. In addition, a manual process means that the potential for error and probity failures is ever-present.

The Airport turned to TenderLink to find a more efficient way to tender, and the benefits were immediate. But – given the facts over hunches argument being made here – of greater interest were the Airport’s medium term intentions for their use of an e-Procurement system.

“I’ve asked the Projects team to use our new system as much as possible, because it’s a transparent, comprehensive way of tendering for all parties involved,” said Floyd de Kruijff, Manager Projects at Cairns Airport, adding that the Airport intended to extend its use for more than just works valued at over $100,000. “For many organisations that partake in procurement processes, transparency is critical to maintaining the integrity of the process. For instance, if a supplier appears to win a lot of work, this can lead to a perception that there is somehow a preference towards that supplier, which may not be the case.

“We haven’t had any issues to date, and TenderLink’s portal ensures we won’t get any in the future.”

Cairns Airport is hardly alone in adopting digital procurement systems to satiate the appetites for transparency from suppliers, competitors and constituents. But it’s not enough to simply reassure people that the process is pure. It’s imperative that public purse entities adopt systems that make the facts indisputable.

Because if it comes down to show me, don’t tell me, facts trump rhetoric every time.

*Copy supplied by TenderLink