Public Works deal brings an end to Merx fee

Following a change to its contract with the federal government last November, Merx says it is no longer charging an annual subscription fee for basic access to federal opportunities on contract bidding engine Government Electronic Tendering Service (GETS).

Merx, a subsidiary of Montreal-based

Mediagrif Interactive Technologies Inc., which acquired the service from Bank of Montreal in 2002, is a provider of government e-tendering solutions with over 20,000 subscribers in the last quarter.

But Mediagrif chairman and CEO Denis Gadbois doesn’t think waiving the fee, which took effect April 1, will have a significant impact on the number of Merx users.

“I don’t think at the end of the process having to pay or not to pay 20 some dollars per month will increase drastically the number of Canadian suppliers that now will want to do business with the government,” said Gadbois in an interview Monday.

The elimination of the fee, which is approximately $21.95 monthly, was made possible by the Public Works and Government Services Canada’s (PWGSC) decision to fund access to all federal request for proposals (RFPs). Users can also download electronic files free of charge.

Last week’s announcement follows Merx’s launch last June of a new version of its procurement system that offered users new pricing models and a feature that allowed them to view listings for free before ordering contract details.

The PWGSC has agreed to contribute $7 million out of the 2004 federal budget, a ministry spokesperson said Monday.

“One of (businesses’) main irritants was they had to pay to get access to federal opportunities,” said Robert Groulx, senior director, electronic processes directorate, Government of Canada marketplace sector. “In their attempt to be open and transparent and making sure that everybody has access to it, we’ve put the focus on the fact that trying to provide especially small and medium-sized companies full access to the service.”

Cost is an important issue for Merx users, as over 80 per cent of them are small and medium-sized companies with less than 50 employees, Groulx added.

“The government recognizes the importance of small and medium-sized businesses,” said Groulx. “This sector is helping position Canada as the leader in the global economy.”

But users will still have to pay for so-called “value-added services” like a paper format of an RFP and access to other government jurisdictions, reduced from $29.95 per month to $16.95.

While the move encourages small businesses to explore business opportunities online, they still have to deal with disparate systems when accessing similar information from province to province, according industry expert Andre Piché.

“It means that (businesses) have to deal with two different systems,” said Piché, director of national affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses. “It makes it a lot easier for individuals. The government in general is moving towards having the single window where you can go and get information online.”

Prior to its acquisition of Merx, CGI Group Inc. had put in a bid to develop a system with the government of Quebec. British Columbia, Alberta and Maritime provinces also have their own systems in place.

“Unlike Alberta, B.C. and Maritime provinces, Quebec decided to have their own system for different reasons because it’s a paying system also,” said Gadbois. “We felt that it was a decision that was not increasing the competitiveness of Quebec-based suppliers.”

Groulx made a similar observation about other provinces’ systems.

“The other governments, they have their own tendering process,” said Groulx. “They have their own authority to do their own procurement process but they’re all welcome to use GETS as a single window.”

Most provincial governments currently post their opportunities without the attachments. A supplier, for example, can view anything that’s posted from Nova Scotia on GETS and click on a link to Nova Scotia’s site to find details of the RFP.

Since the site opened on April 1, Mediagrif has received over 140 calls to its help desk line from Merx users that are happy with the free service. GETS puts out 60,000 contracts annually, which represent approximately $10 billion worth of business opportunities.

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