Public Works eases up on IT procurement reform

Shortly after spearheading efforts to change the federal government’s procurement reform strategy, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) is applauding Public Works and Government Services

Canada for stressing the importance of involving the industry.

Last month, John Reid, president of CATA, told that proposed PWGSC changes — which would include having selected suppliers through which other vendors would have to work in order to take part in government contracts — could potentially exclude many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from procurement opportunities.

According to Reid, the government’s change of tone, as expressed in a letter dated Feb. 15, 2005, from PWGSC Minister Scott Brison to Reid, bodes well for a more transparent reform process.  

“We picked up what we thought to be some concerns regarding how the government was moving with this procurement reform before Christmas,” said Reid. “And as a first step, we deployed a very powerful research methodology so that we could fully document what the impact of these anticipated changes would be on the vendor community in Canada. That was perhaps the key in turning the situation around to a large degree.” 

Reid also credited CATA’s efforts to grasp where its support points were. It quickly became apparent, he noted, that even some within government were very much concerned about PWGSC’s initiatives. But the letter indicates the start of a collaborative approach.

“Firstly, a bureau of small business will be set up within PWGSC to facilitate and enhance the interaction between small businesses and the Government of Canada,” said Minister Brison to Reid in the letter, which CATA forwarded to “Second, Industry Canada and the Department of International Trade will be engaged to further address concerns such as the need to harness innovation and encourage competitiveness. Third, we will initiate a process to increase the accessibility of small suppliers to government purchasing while preserving the corporate needs of the government as a whole.”

As procurement reform advances, explained Reid, PWGSC is going to be recommending specific mechanisms and processes designed to keep the “opportunity window” open for SMEs. He added that CATA, at this point, can’t predict whether those mechanisms and processes will work.

“We have a commitment from them to work together going forward, to put in place mechanisms and vehicles to ensure the SME community is at the table,” said Joanne Stanley, vice-president of marketing for CATA. “They’ve made a commitment to tie procurement policies to (Industry Canada’s) Innovation Agenda. What that means to us is that [SMEs] who have disruptive technologies will be considered as part of the procurement process.” 

Peter Andrews, CEO of Ottawa-based Infoterra Inc., which provides grant management solutions to automate public sector and non-government grants and contribution programs in Canada, the United States and Australia, is one of the companies standing firmly in the CATA camp. 

According to Andrews, CATA and PWSGC will work collaboratively towards a solution based on input from the industry as a whole. Ensuring that all the bureaucrats who execute these programs are on the right track, he noted, won’t necessarily be easy.

“If I have a concern, that’s where my concern would (be),” he said. “I think it’s very encouraging that Minister Brison has indicated a willingness to listen. The procurement comes under his ministry…The challenge now is to follow through.”

As it waits to see what the federal budget being tabled on February 23 has in store for the industry, Reid said CATA is also holding a vendor coalition meeting in Ottawa on the same day where, among other things, participants will learn more about what exactly is going on.

“Last time I checked, we had over 120 companies that were going to be there. We’ll also be circulating the research results,” he said, commenting on the positive support CATA has received. “I’ve got back (many) responses from companies in terms of recognizing the role we play here as a voice for the vendor community.”

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