The federal government is quietly making changes to its automated contracting system that will allow public sector users to procure a range of consulting services besides IT expertise.
Late last month, Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) began redirecting registrants to its Informatics Professional Services (IPS) Marketplace to an expanded online database, Professional Services Online. Initially available only in the national capital region, PWGSC intends to expand it so that vendors can secure contracts from government clients across the country. Besides IT services, PS Online will include listings of firms that offer HR management, change management, organizational management and project management.
Since it launched about four years ago, government departments have used IPS Marketplace to perform a complete technical candidate search, narrowing the results by category, skills and minimum years of experience. Once it finds a successful match, the IPS site guide users through the procurement process. Consultants who are already registered with IPS Marketplace can be included under the new streams, but they will have to provide references for three projects related to the expertise they claim to have that were completed within the last three years, according to PWGSC’s Web site. The contracts under PS Online will be less than $89,000.
The creation of PS Online is the latest in a series of attempts by the government to reform its procurement processes in response to criticisms from smaller firms who said they felt excluded from public sector projects. Last year, for example, PWGSC said it would clarify to departments which professional services are covered by standing offers and which ones are not so that the government doesn’t have to use a company on a standing offer when that service is not covered. PWSC is also set to introduce seven Regional Master Standing Offers (RMSOs) later this month for businesses selling office supplies to government offices. Other efforts include the creation of the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME), the elimination of feeds to use the government’s electronic tendering system (Merx) and a “plain language” initiative to ensure contracts are easy to understand.
“The whole idea behind the IPS Marketplace, from what I heard, was to get more consortiums through big businesses. For us, as a small business, that was a little scary,” said Jeff Lynt, president of InRound Innovations Consultant Services in Ottawa. “With the marketplace, you would only be successful if you could provide candidates in 70 per cent of the categories . . . no one company can be all things to all people.”
PWSC spokespeople did not respond to interview requests at press time, but a statement on its Web site said PS Online “will enable companies to market their services directly to the government without having to align themselves with larger corporations.”
Lynt said InRound opted to build a specialty career site, ITJobsRUS.com, to recruit the talent necessary for some government jobs as well as partnering with other firms as a consortium. Allan Drake, president of Ottawa-based Alika Internet Technologies Inc., said his firm used IPS Marketplace and got a few contracts, but they were mostly in the $25,000 range. PS Online could change that, he said, but a more centralized procurement process would make even more sense.
“I don’t think there’s a need to have a Merx and an IPS and all these other things. Every department should be able to use these standing offers, not just the departments that put it out,” he said. For example, Alika has a standing offer with four or five departments for Lotus Notes work, but not with Public Works. “Really, the requirements are going to be the same for them. Why do a subsequent RFP?”
Toronto-based Cronos Consulting Group registered with IPS Marketplace just a few months ago and senior partner Afifa Siddiqui said the expanded PS Online could open up business opportunities for many of its non-IT services. The nature of government contracts, however, usually means waiting for the public sector to make the first move, she added.
“In order to get any sort of work, you have to respond to whatever they put out on Merx,” she said. “It’s tough to proactively pitch for government contracts the way we do in our private practice.”
PWGSC said government users will also have to register with PS Online to make use of the expanded database. It has published an “Information for Government Departments” section to guide them through the process.