Can Software Protect the EFA from Botched Procurements?

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) recently selected QinetiQ Commerce Decisions' AWARD software to use on the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP). AWARD is a web based collaborative tool for managing strategic projects and procurement. Project teams procuring high value complex schemes use it to assess, negotiate and evaluate bid documents. The software is widely used in the public sector, just yesterday QinetiQ announced the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had signed up to a corporate licence contract, which will see greater use of AWARD to support the MoD's assessment processes.

The software has a ubiquitous presence in the NHS, local authorities, central government, and quangos including the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It offers project teams the comfort of a structured approach to the bid evaluation process. This is where often delays occur, problems are missed, and contract negotiations go awry. AWARD generates an audit trail throughout the bid process, which project teams can use, if needed, to defend their selection decisions.

The EFA hopes that AWARD will help them to run the PSBP more efficiently, with projects spread across England, multiple stakeholders, and a mostly remote workforce of project directors, it's critical the EFA's processes and decisions are robust and stand up to scrutiny. Especially after, Michael Gove's vociferous criticisms of the bureaucratic waste of the predecessor education capital programme, Building Schools for the Future (BSF). Interestingly, in making their choice, the EFA must have been impressed by QinetiQ's track record in education, having worked on 20 Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects.

But software can only go so far in preventing procurement disasters. Let us not forget the lessons from the Laidlaw Inquiry into the InterCity West Coast franchise fiasco; here the main contributory factors in the botched evaluation were the "results of individual actions and omissions". As Laidlaw goes on to say in his report "organisational structures and governance processes can only go so far in militating the actions of individuals."

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