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Will-o’-the-WISP: Commonwealth abandons Whole-of-Government Panel

by Paris Cowan •
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The Australian Government will not go ahead with a proposal to establish a Whole-of-Government IT Services Panel (WISP).

Instead, it will pursue a Portfolio Panels for IT Services Policy, which aims to halve the number of IT Services panels in use across the Australian Government by capping the number of such panels operational within each portfolio to a maximum of three.

All new IT services panels will be required to be open to multi-agency access or agency ‘piggybacking’. As a result, once the plan is fully implemented, suppliers should be able to do business with every single Federal agency by being a member of just one panel.

“This policy will reduce the administrative overheads incurred by agencies in establishing their own panels and also for the IT industry in tendering for inclusion in the current large number of panels,” said the Special Minister of State, Gary Gray in a statement.

All IT Services panels currently in place will continue through to their expiry date, before their futures are assessed as part of the new scheme. The policy becomes operational immediately.

The move is a significant deviation from the original WISP proposal, which was released by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) in December 2010.

The WISP draft proposal, which was published on the AGIMO Blog in order to facilitate public feedback, suggested reducing the number of IT Services panels in operation across the government to approximately four – three managed by the top ICT procuring Federal agencies and a WISP which would be available to smaller agencies and would target contracts under $250,000.

Under the latest plan, which aims to halve the number of panels currently in place, as many as 60 IT services panels would be accommodated instead.

The move suggests that the Federal Government has chosen to avoid the path that has been followed by many of the States and Territories as they have consolidated all ICT Services procurement under a single head agreement, often to the dissatisfaction of industry.

The Victorian Government found out how sensitive a whole-of-government panel can become when it attempted to cut its eServices Panel by 65 suppliers, and became the target of an industry backlash as a result.

The decision to maintain a significant number of panels across the Federal Government reflects a desire to accommodate the needs of agencies and industry while maintaining competition across the Federal ICT market.  It also reflects a recognition that the complex needs of agencies will be best met through a range of panels.

“The new policy provides the flexibility that agencies require over a wide range of IT Services. It will deliver operational efficiencies while maintaining a high level of open competition,” First Assistant Secretary at AGIMO, John Sheridan has written on the agency’s blog.

“Efficiencies are gained by reducing the large number of IT Services Panels that exist across Australian Government agencies and the burden this places on agencies and suppliers. Competition is maintained by allowing a maximum of three IT Services Panels across each portfolio and thus providing IT suppliers with future panel tenders to which to respond,” he said.

The policy means that the Federal Government ICT services market will in effect remain ‘continuously open’ to suppliers, due to the varying end dates of panels.  Newcomers will therefore find that they are able to compete for positions on panels on a regular basis, in contrast to jurisdictions with whole-of-government panels, where unsuccessful suppliers find themselves locked out of the market for extended periods of time.

There are currently 19 portfolios, or clusters of related agencies, across the Federal Government of widely varying sizes and ICT budgets.

According to Intermedium’s analysis, as reflected in its scout IT tool, there are 148 Federal Government panels that include IT Services within their scope (the discrepancy with the Minister’s numbers will reflect differences in definition as to what constitutes an IT Services panel).

The portfolios that will be under the greatest pressure to cut down their panel numbers are Defence, with a total of 25 IT Services panels, and Attorney General’s, with 21 panels.

Other panel numbers by portfolio are as follows:



Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry


Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy


Climate Change and Energy Efficiency




Education, Employment & Workplace Relations


Families, Housing, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs


Finance & Deregulation


Foreign Affairs and Trade


Health & Ageing


Human Services


Immigration and Citizenship


Transport & Infrastructure


Innovation, Industry, Science and Research


Prime Minister and Cabinet


Resources, Energy and Tourism


Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities







Under the new plans, the market is likely to remain dominated by major IT Services panels established by Tier 1 agencies (agencies procuring over $200 million of ICT per annum), specifically the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Department of Defence.

DHS’s ICT Contractor Panel, a labour hire panel established by Centrelink before it was integrated into DHS, currently has 35 agencies ‘piggy-backing’ off it, and in 2010-11 facilitated 91 per cent of all ICT labour hire contracts in the Federal Government market, according to Intermedium’s research.

In addition, DHS’s ICT Services Panel (effectively a systems integration panel) has 24 agencies listed as procuring through it.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) also made its IT Applications Services Panel, established in July this year, a multi-agency use panel.  So far, only a handful of contracts have been signed through the panel, all of them by the ATO.

A correction to an Austender data entry error has also revealed that the Department of Defence’s Applications Managed Services Partner Arrangement (AMSPA – otherwise known as the System Integration Panel) will be open for the use of all Federal agencies.


Related Articles:

Queensland to establish whole-of-government IT services panel

IT Services Panels: the elusive WISP re-emerges and Victoria bows to industry pressure

AGIMO proposes profound, far reaching changes to ICT Services procurement

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