When it comes to IT projects, the common wisdom is that the public sector has nothing to teach the private sector. Of course, it could just be that the private sector is much better at keeping secrets. The public sector has nowhere to hide: the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the media like nothing better than to rake over an IT project in the hopes of finding any aspect of less-than-100 per cent perfection.

The public sector CIO also has to contend with a restrictive public procurement regime that dictates how to run a project, what the market must be told, how much negotiation is allowed and what evaluation is acceptable.

Regulations which came into effect last December have made it easier to challenge procurement decisions. This is in the name of fairness, transparency and non-discrimination. It’s taxpayers’ money, so the rationale is that it’s in the public’s interest to make the public body accountable.

CIOs must play a part in enterprise procurement

What’s perhaps surprising is that no-one insists that private sector CIOs are subject to the same sort of legal accountability. OK, it’s not taxpayers’ money they are playing with – but it is shareholders’ money. Bid costs can run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds. Is it right that a project team should have the right to chop and change, or even ignore the result of a procurement process?

I’m not suggesting that private sector CIOs be banned from sole-source projects. It’s really their job to choose the service provider that offers the best value for money for their firm. If they opt to do that without open competition, that’s their lookout.

But there is a well developed concept in the public sector of the implied tendering contract – effectively “I’ve started this project in a certain way so I’ll finish”. Given the amount of money at stake in many IT projects, shouldn’t there be some sort of obligation on the part of private sector CIOs to be consistent, open and transparent?

What’s equally surprising is why no service provider who has felt on the wrong side of a seemingly biased decision by a customer has resorted to the implied tendering contract argument to make a customer complete a process in which so many people have invested time and money.

Devon County Council CIO shares his experiences

Customers complain all the time and resort to law when their service providers don’t do what they say. Service providers, isn’t it about time to do the same in reverse during the bid process?

About the author:

Alistair Maughan is head of global sourcing at Morrison & Foerster – www.mofo.com