Online registry key to SMBs seeking government contracts

Is your small or medium sized business selling technology products or services? If so, then you should be checking out the Public Works and Government Services Canada Web site regularly because the government is one of the largest buyers of SMB goods and services and the site is critical to knowing what the government is looking for.

In a two-part seminar titled How to Procure Your Share of Federal Business held in cooperation with the Innovation Synergy Center in Markham, representatives from PWGSC pointed out that the federal government purchases approximately $15 billion to $20 billion worth of goods and services annually. While the volume of PWGSC contracts amount to only 60,000 compared to about 415,000 from other government departments, contracts signed by the former come up to more than $12.4 billion as oppose to only $2.6 billion signed annually by other government departments.

Many SMBs in the technology industry are not aware of this and end up “shaking the wrong tree” according to Agnes Haak, and organizational development consultant and principal of Sparkit, a change management consultancy firm based in Toronto. “A lot people think they should be selling to departments but for everything above $5,000 they should be going through Public Works and Services which handles this level of procurement,” she said. (For contracts up to $5,000, individual departments can approach the vendors themselves).

Haak said Merx, the government’s online public tendering system provides request for proposal (RFP) opportunities above $25,000.

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However, SMBs need to register with PWGSC online registries to get the ball rolling, according to Kieta Boulet, procurement specialist for the Office of Small and Medium Enterprise under the PWGSC.

“By registering, the government becomes aware of your business and you open yourself to a larger market,” said Boulet who spoke on the topic Registering your business on the supplier registration data base.

These registries, she said, are a directory of businesses accessible to federal government buyers to identify as potential suppliers. The sites contain requests for information (RFI) and RFPs on various projects. The sites also contain the mandatory documents, procedures and clearances that businesses should obtain to bid on government contracts.

Essential, registration is the gateway to:

  • Promoting your business
  • Searching for opportunities
  • Bidding on opportunities

Three key online registries

In order to do business with the government, businesses should registering with the Supplier Registration Information (SRI) system. This is a directory of businesses that government buyers can use to find potential suppliers. Registration is mandatory in order to do business with the PWGSC for contracts that have a low dollar value (below $75,000). Registration is free and only takes approximately 15 minutes.

Another online registry is Professional Service Online. This site is government procurement tool for services worth up to $76,600 in areas covering:

  • Information technology
  • Human resources management
  • Organization management
  • Project management
  • Organization and classification management
  • Change management and organization development services

Businesses can also register with SELECT registry. This is a database of approved suppliers in:

  • Construction
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Related consultancy and maintenance services

Government buyers use the site for contracts worth up to:

  • $76,600 (architecture and engineering)
  • $100,000 (construction and trades)

What the government buys from SMBs

There are approximately 2.5 million SMBs in Canada. About 850,000 of these businesses are located in Ontario and the government has many projects and opportunities aimed at helping the sector, according to Haak of Sparkit.

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SMBs interested in landing a government contract should monitor government sites and registries that cover the “commodities” they specialize in, according to Haak.

For instance the top 10 commodities purchased in Ontario by the government from 2007 to 2008 are:

  • Financial and related services – $234 million
  • ADP equipment, supplies, software and support – $164 million
  • Vehicular equipment components – $124 million
  • Research and development – $110 million
  • Instruments and laboratory equipment – $58 million
  • Transportation, travel and relocation services – $53 million
  • Construction – $48 million
  • Communications, detection and coherent radiation equipment – $37 million
  • Food – $30 million
  • Clothing, individual equipment, insignia – $27 million

Boulet of the OSME also reminded businesses to pay close attention to requirements stated in the forms provided by the government. “Read them carefully if items are required and you do not include them you could be disqualified from taking part in the bid.”

She said that RFIs and RFPs are not always the same and can numerous variations. Many government projects, she said also require suppliers to have access to protected or classified information.

“This means that you and perhaps some of your workers will need to obtain reliability screening or security clearance within a certain time frame to be awarded a contract,” she said.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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