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E-Tendering in the Telecommunications Sector of the Public Service

Literature Review

The telecommunication sector has gone through a massive transformation over the last two decades. According to Chadli et al. (2016), emerging technologies have redefined the manner in which people communicate. The new media that is primarily based on digital technology has become central not only in the socio-economic sphere but also in the political arena (Giudice & Peruta 2016). The government, working closely with different players in this sector, must ensure that the right infrastructure is put in place to facilitate the development of this sector. Batuo (2015) explains that the concept of e-tendering has gained popularity in the telecommunication sector of public service. Government entities in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia now prefer e-tendering when planning to source materials or services of private entities (Ibem & Laryea 2017; Rodríguez 2017). It is considered more convenient and effective than the traditional tendering process (Hausman & Taylor 2016). In this section, the primary aim is to review literature that focuses on the critical success factors for the implementation of e-tendering in the telecommunication of the public service (Pall 2016). The review will also investigate the perception of players in the public sector towards e-tendering.

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The Concept of E-Tendering

The concept of e-tendering is gaining popularity in different countries around the world because of the emergence of advanced technologies in the field of communication. Hana (2015) defines e-tendering as a process where all activities related to tendering, from advertising, submission, receipt of the tenders, assortment, and awarding of tenders, including the exchange of documents after confirmation, is done electronically. Traditional tendering in public institutions involved passing the message through mass media to the public, preferably in the form of newspaper advertisements, stating the criterion that has to be met to qualify for the tender (Huhtala et al., 2015). Interested parties would then submit their tenders in the form of paper files stating their capacity and factors that they believe make them the best candidate for the project (Mohd et al. 2016; Rotich, Benard & Waruguru 2015). A tendering committee would then go through the offer physically, one file after the other, to select the most qualified candidates. The selected parties would then receive a letter of confirmation (Calvo-Mora, Navarro-García & Periañez-Cristobal 2015). Such tedious processes are being replaced with an automated system that eliminates the need to use physical files.

According to Lee and Tang (2018), e-tendering has gained massive popularity over the recent past because of its superiority over the traditional tendering process. Using this system saves time for all the parties involved. Once the interested parties have presented their bids, the information would be available to the tendering committee in real-time. They do not have to wait for three or more days for the document to be delivered using the mail services (Bourne 2016; Russell 2018). Another benefit of e-tendering is that it eliminates corruption and favoritism in the public sector. One of the main areas where corruption is common is in the public sector tendering boards (Ciribini, Bolpagni & Oliveri 2015).

Board members would demand bribes from the applicants for their tenders to be approved. In such a situation, the board would not consider the qualifications and pricing of the interested parties. Their focus would be to award the tender to parties willing to pay the highest amount of bribe. In such a situation, the contractor would be forced to increase prices to cover the bribe they have to pay. In some extreme cases, board members would award lucrative contracts to their own companies or firms owned by friends and family members. They give total disregard to the conditions set when awarding public tenders. The electronic tendering system can help overcome this problem.

Doerr (2015) notes that the system can be set to select the best applicants based on the set criteria, which are often the capacity to deliver on a given project, timeliness, past records, financial health of the firm, and the price they charge. When the criteria have been set, the tendering committee will only be presented with participants who have registered the highest scores. They can then handpick the appropriate applicant based on other government-related issues (Campbell & Göritz 2014; Schulzea et al. 2016). In such a system, manipulation is not easy. Muszynska (2018) differs from the argument, saying that one can manipulate the system through hacking. As such, it is important to secure the system to protect it from third parties.

Telecommunication in Public Service

According to Al-Yahya (2018, p. 6), telecommunication refers to “the transmission of signs, messages, words, images and sounds or information of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems.” DeMaria (2016) defines telecommunication simply as the exchange of information between two or more parties with the help of technology. In the past, the government had close control of mass communication: the government-controlled national television, radios, and mail companies (Liu et al., 2017). The control was meant to ensure that security organs can put on check inciting messages and any information deemed a threat to members of the public. However, socio-political, economic, and technological changes have led to the liberalization of knowledge sharing. Private players currently dominate mass and social media, unlike what was the case a century ago. The government still has a role to play in ensuring that stakeholders remain responsible when sharing information.

The United States Federal Communications Commission, the United Kingdom’s Department of Communication, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Public Administration and Communications are the entities trusted with regulating telecommunication in these three countries (Douglass et al., 2015; Siew et al. 2016). Their responsibilities go beyond regulating mass and social media. They also have to facilitate mega projects in the telecommunication sector. They have to ensure that these countries are digitally connected to the world through various infrastructural projects. Conforto and Amaral (2016) argue that managing communication in the public sector has become more complex than it ever was in the past. On the one hand, governments have to contend with the fact that media, especially social media, has become so powerful that they can help topple a regime, as has been witnessed in the Arab Spring. On the other hand, the authorities have to deal with the public demand that the government should not gag the media. Limiting the power of the press can cause rebellion in the country but having too much freedom makes it easy for members of society to misuse these platforms for personal gain. Striking a balance between these two extreme conditions may be challenging.

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Implementation of E-Tendering in Telecommunications in the Public Sector

The concept of e-tendering is gaining popularity in the private sector because of its perceived efficiency. However, it is yet to receive similar acceptance in some of the public sectors in the country (Manole & Grabara 2016; Turkulainen, Aaltonen & Lohikoski 2016). Some government institutions still prefer the traditional tendering approach as a way of ensuring that there is a paper trail that can facilitate auditing. Parker, Kunde, and Zeppetella (2017) note government officials should overcome the fear of the unknown when trying to embrace the new concept. They should understand that the use of the digital platform does not compromise on other regulatory authorities to audit such expenses. Whenever a tender is awarded, and a project is undertaken, there will be a digital trail of all the activities done, making it easy to conduct a review (Niazia et al. 2016; Rathi & Given 2017). The attitude change, especially by those at the top management unit, is critical in creating the desired change.

According to Pavithra et al. (2018), the implementation of e-tendering in telecommunication in the public sector should start with the empowerment of the stakeholders involved. The relevant government agencies should take their employees through some form of training. The tendering committee should have the right knowledge about e-tendering in terms of how it should be done, the interaction of machines and human beings in the tendering process, and ways of enhancing accountability. The department will need to hire more experts in database management to ensure that digital information involving the transaction is kept securely for future references (Pauleen & Wang 2017). When handling important government documents, especially those that may be used in auditing, Al Yahya (2018) suggests that there should be an effective and reliable system. Hacking and data manipulation is currently one of the biggest concerns in cyberspace. The department should be assured that in case of such events, there should be a system that can be used as a point of reference.

Critical Success Factors in E-Tendering in Telecommunications in the Public Sector

Implementation of e-tendering in telecommunications in the public sector promises to transform the approach taken to award tenders meant to develop communication infrastructure in the country. However, Newman (2016) warns that technology does not lead to automatic success. A significant effort is expected of different players to ensure that the vision is realized. Critical success factors help in identifying specific issues that can help in achieving the goal. As shown in figure 1 below, one of the most important critical success factors during the implementation is infrastructural development. The system can only work if the relevant public offices transform their data management system (Papke-Shields & Boyer-Wright 2017; Wang & Rafiq 2014). They have to move from the traditional use of files to the use of digital databases. They also need to have enhanced websites that can facilitate advertising the tenders, receiving applications of interest, processing the application, and selecting the most qualified candidates based on pre-determined criteria (Ghezzi, Cortimiglia & Frank 2015; Radujković & Sjekavica 2017). The entire process should be conducted automatically without any interference from board members who may have a personal interest. The board will only make the final selection from the finalists.

When the infrastructure is put in place, the team of employees involved in data management and the tendering process should be taken through some form of training. Although digital technology has been in place for some time, when it is not used within a given department, employees may not take it seriously (Garín-Muñoz et al. 2016; Wimalasena, Gunatilake & Moratuwa 2018). The government should make it clear that there is a need to overhaul the previous system and replace it with a new technology-based system. Employees responsible for managing records should acquire new knowledge about digital data management that would enable them to work under the new system. People tend to reject change when they feel that they lack knowledge that can enable them to work efficiently under a new system (Afolabi et al., 2017). To eliminate such challenges, top government officials should make an effort to equip these employees with the relevant knowledge they need once the data management system is digitized. The tendering board should also learn their roles under the new system (Manole & Avramescu 2017). They need to know that they can only deliver good results if they work as per the stipulated rules and regulations (Mohd et al., 2016). Every time a new technology is created, employees should be taken through some form of training.

The third critical factor identified in the figure below is the need to embrace innovative culture within the relevant government departments. According to Gao, Chai, and Liu (2018), one of the common challenges that public sector entities face in their effort to modernize is laxity among employees and senior managers. In the private sector, firms know that their ability to succeed depends on their dynamism and the ability to meet customers’ needs in the best way possible because of stiff competition (Pan, Reppen & Biber 2016). However, such concerns may not exist in the public sector. Government employees know that they do not have to worry about competition and that despite the poor quality of their services, recipients do not have alternatives (O’Reilly et al., 2014). Such a mentality should be eliminated because the country is competing against its neighbors within the region. If services offered in Trinidad and Tobago are ineffective, an investor can easily consider settling in Panama, Colombia, or Venezuela. As such, government employees should embrace innovative culture (Meade & Islam 2015; Zulch 2014). When the technology-based tendering system is introduced in the telecommunication sector, these government employees should find ways of streamlining it to meet local needs at an international level.

The final factor that would define the success of the initiative, as shown in the figure below, is the promotion of public awareness about e-tendering in the telecommunication sector. The government often transacts with private entities in various developmental projects through tendering processes (Mikhieieva & Waidmann 2017). These private players should know that the government is shifting from the traditional practices of tendering to a new approach. The use of mass and social media can be used to pass the information to the public. They should be informed that the government no longer accepts applications made in the traditional format.

Critical success factors
Figure 1. Critical success factors (Ozierańska et al. 2016, p. 80).

Knowledge Gap

The review of literature has identified specific issues relating to e-tendering in telecommunication in the public service and factors that can enhance success. However, it is evident that most of the literature focuses on technology-based tendering as practiced in the United States, Europe, and other countries with a similar socio-economic and political environment. Little information exists about its application in the country. This study will address this knowledge gap through the collection and analysis of primary data.

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