Talk About Australian government

Risk-averse and technology-backwards bureaucrats are hampering the push for agile and innovative Australian government, high-tech start-up firms say.

Emerging firms say government contracts remain sown up by multinational “dinosaurs” like IBM, SAP and Accenture, despite high-profile stuff-ups, because they are masters of the federal government’s painfully bureaucratic tender process.

Public servants who don’t know what technological solutions are available are another inhibitor of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation drive, with too few bureaucrats willing to explore or experiment.

But there is hope, with one digital marketing firm saying the reboot of the Digital Transformation Office – now the Digital Transformation Agency – was taking government tech in the right direction.

Sydney start-up URGE offers a Yellow Pages-style directory of businesses that can communicate with their customers via text or live webchat.

Chief executive and co-founder Doron Ostrin says URGE, or technology like it, could make the difference to Centrelink’s dismal customer service performance.

But he says the firm hits a brick wall when it tries to show the Commonwealth what it can do.

“We just get passed around, it’s like nobody really has the final say,” Mr Ostrin said.

“On the back of one of the last Centrelink articles, when they were saying that they wanted to find new ways of letting their customers talk to them, we did reach out to them, but we haven’t heard anything back.”

Mr Ostrin said bureaucrats believed the low-risk option was hiring established giants like IBM, Accenture or SAP, even if the multinationals had a track record of involvement in high-profile tech-wrecks like the recent census debacle.

“But in the tech-world, hiring the biggest builder doesn’t get you the best house,” Mr Ostrin said.

“You don’t see enough experiments or trials happening because they [departments] are too nervous of going to the public with anything that isn’t perfect.”

Mike Pritchett, managing director of video production start-up Shootsta, is another tech executive frustrated by the Commonwealth tendering maze.

“Nine times out of 10, the government tenders are very convoluted and there have been some more recently where they have been getting a little better,” Mr Pritchett said.