(accessible to federal government employees only)
In the fall of 2007, Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) committed to undertake consultations with suppliers through the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME) on electronic tendering systems. The purpose of the consultations, held in early 2008, was to learn how the Government Electronic Tendering Service (GETS), currently supplied through a privately owned web site (MERX), could be potentially improved in the short term. Additionally, OSME wanted to learn how PWGSC web sites, which provide information services to suppliers, could be improved. Suppliers were also asked to provide advice on how the overall approach to GETS could be improved in the long term. Objectives for the consultations included:
As suppliers have a varied understanding of and familiarity with the electronic tendering tools used by the federal government, PWGSC designed and implemented a consultation process to ensure that all individuals could actively participate. Between May 13 and June 30, 2008, OSME collected input via an online feedback form to address the objectives above, and held face-to-face consultation sessions in six key urban centres across Canada. A detailed feedback form was also circulated at each of the consultation sessions to help profile participants and gather specific feedback on PWGSC electronic procurement tools. Approximately 400 responses were received to the online questionnaire, and more than 100 participants attended the in-person consultation sessions.
In terms of how the tendering system could be improved, participants in the consultation made the following recommendations:
Suppliers identified six key challenges for the federal government to consider in moving forward, which include:
Suppliers were asked to provide OSME with recommendations on how to move forward with any proposed improvements or enhancements to the GETS that were identified during the consultation sessions. Participants identified a range of ideas, organized below under the following four themes, which are detailed in the report.
Overall, participants were pleased with the process used to gather their ideas and appreciated the opportunity to provide input. They indicated that PWGSC should continue its dialogue with SME and other federal government suppliers.
Attached as Appendix 1: Action Plan is an action plan covering the primary recommendations that suppliers provided. Some of the suggested recommendations have already been actioned or are part of the ongoing undertakings of PWGSC. Appendix 2: Results from individual workshop consultation sessions provides a visual representation of the themes and recommendations discussed at each of the in person consultation sessions.
In early 2008, the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME) of Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) undertook consultations with current and potential suppliers on its approach to electronic tendering, to determine how the current Government Electronic Tendering Service (GETS), provided through MERX, as well as the future generation could potentially be improved and enhanced.
OSME is responsible for the GETS, as well as for the Buy and Sell web site, which is a federal initiative to improve both supplier and buyer awareness and to simplify access to federal government purchasing information. Interaction with suppliers, both current and potential, is a core responsibility of OSME and a central tool for enabling interactions with these stakeholders is through the above-mentioned web sites. OSME currently manages several web-based systems in addition to the GETS, including the Supplier Registration Information (SRI) and Contract History databases.
In recognition of the various stakeholders that currently use the GETS, PWGSC committed to consult with suppliers, officials from provincial and territorial jurisdictions, and the federal procurement community, on desired improvements and enhancements to the GETS. Responsibility for consulting with each stakeholder group within PWGSC is distributed as follows:
While this report focuses solely on the recommendations made by current and potential suppliers, PWGSC will also consider the recommendations submitted by Provincial and Territorial Jurisdictions as well as OGD and PWGSC procurement community as part of the larger strategy of improving the next generation of the GETS. Subsequent sections will present the comments and suggestions provided by suppliers during the in person consultation sessions as well as responses received from the electronic survey. While the focus of the consultations has been on gaining an understanding of how the GETS could be potentially improved in both the short and long term, the process has been designed to capture information on a range of issues, including other aspects of PWGSC and OSME's web sites and tools that are used to inform current and potential suppliers about government procurement. Specifically, the objectives for the consultations have been to:
It is important to note that suppliers have a varied understanding of and familiarity with PWGSC's electronic tendering tools, and therefore are able to contribute at varied levels to informing and discussing these objectives as defined by PWGSC. Some suppliers were frequent users of some or all of the tools being discussed, whereas other suppliers had rarely, if ever, used the systems.
The consultation process was designed to collect input regarding both strategic, long term outcomes, and more operational, short-term adjustments to GETS and PWGSC's web content. The process was applied at two levels. First, at the broadest level, PWGSC developed a web-based questionnaire focused specifically on the MERX site, and a link was posted directly on the MERX site to enable visiting suppliers to submit their perspectives on a number of key questions. The opportunity to provide input extended from late in the month of May 2008 until the end of June 2008.
Second, on a national basis, OSME invited suppliers to attend consultation sessions in key centres across Canada. The consultations were held in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver between May 13 and June 13, 2008. Participants were randomly pulled from a cross-section of Canadian businesses registered in the SRI database to ensure that different industry sectors, regions, and firm sizes were represented. The consultations included invitees that did not currently supply to the Government of Canada as well as current suppliers. In addition, representatives from twelve industry associations that represent large groups of suppliers were invited. In order to ensure that all interested parties had the opportunity to provide input, suppliers not attending the in-person consultation sessions were invited to submit their comments via the online questionnaire mentioned above, which was accessible through the MERX or OSME Web site during the course of the consultation. Approximately 400 responses were received.
The sessions involved discussion around key questions through a highly structured approach, which was a variation of a facilitation method. The method allowed for both small group and plenary discussions. During the process, participants were informed that the primary purpose of the exercise was to gather input and that reaching consensus on any recommendations identified was not necessary.
The following discussion questions were used to gather input from all participants attending the consultation sessions:
In addition, those attending the sessions were provided with a detailed feedback form on the electronic tendering tools for which OSME is responsible, and asked to provide direct feedback on their experience with these tools.
The following questions were included in the online survey that was posted during the course of the consultation process:
All input from each of the consultation sessions has been captured into a "mind-map", which is a visual representation of the input. The participants at each individual workshop created the outline of the mind-map, as they were asked to aggregate their ideas into common themes, which were subsequently inputted into a software program.
The report captures the diversity of ideas raised during the sessions and through online submissions. It should be noted that some ideas were repeated more frequently than others (e.g. the need for electronic bidding).
It is also important to note that suppliers used a variety of terms to describe the procurement process. This report aims to develop consistent language where possible. For clarity and consistency purposes, the following terms are used: "client" is the source of purchasing need within any federal department or agency; "supplier" refers to those individuals that the client calls upon to meet purchasing needs; and "contracting officers" or "procurement officers" are distinct from clients, and refer to the individuals responsible for managing the relationship between clients and suppliers.
The feedback form that was circulated at the end of each of the consultation sessions provides some context regarding the participants. It is important to first note that a small percentage of feedback forms were completed. A total of thirty-three participants completed the feedback form, which represents approximately one third of the participants in attendance, and less than 1% of all participants invited to attend. Subsequent paragraphs provide an overview of the information obtained from the feedback form.
Approximately two thirds of respondents focused on service rather than good offerings to the government. For more than 60% of these suppliers, less than a quarter of their business revenue is generated by federal government opportunities. More than 66% of the participating suppliers have been in business for more than 20 years. Figure 1 provides a representation of the size of businesses in attendance.
Figure 1: Size of businesses responding to the evaluation and attending the consultation sessions
Text description of Figure 1: Size of businesses responding to the evaluation and attending the consultation sessions is available on a separate page.
Very few respondents are regular visitors to the Buy and Sell website. In fact, 71% of suppliers indicated that they do not visit often; however, the discussion at the consultation sessions appeared to have stimulated their interest in the site and its services. In other words, the majority of respondents indicated they have not been using the Buy and Sell web site to gather information about how to market their goods or services to the federal government, and 31% indicated they employ other methods. Further, 93.5% of respondents indicated that they have never used the Contract History database to view historical transactions for the good or service their businesses provide. In relation to the SRI database, only 44% of suppliers had ever updated their personal information in the system. However, more than 26% found their experience with the SRI database was positive (see Figure 2 below).
Figure 2: Respondents' experience with the Supplier Registration Information database
Text description of Figure 2: Respondents' experience with the Supplier Registration Information database is available on a separate page.
In reference to MERX, more than 81% of respondents are registered, with more than 65% that use the MERX system either on a daily or weekly basis. The level of satisfaction of respondents with MERX varied, with a minority of respondents that were either not satisfied or dissatisfied with the system. Figure 3 provides a more detailed breakdown.
Figure 3: Respondents' experience with MERX
Text description of Figure 3: Respondents' experience with MERX is available on a separate page.
Suppliers have identified ten key changes for a future GETS. Appendix 2: Results from individual workshop consultation sessions includes the mind-maps that outline the responses to this question for each of the six consultation sessions. The ideas generated by participants at the consultation sessions as well as the electronic responses have been summarized into themes, and are described later in the report.
Many participants indicated that any new version of GETS could not work effectively unless underlying problems (i.e. consistency and efficiency) with the procurement process were resolved. Participants indicated that the GETS should facilitate procurement in the least demanding form while remaining consistent with and respecting broad policy principles. Key principles that future electronic tendering systems should incorporate are: ensuring equal access to the opportunities and reducing unnecessary barriers; reducing, where possible, the costs associated with the procurement process for suppliers and clients; and promoting the principles of openness, fairness, and transparency in contracting practices.
In addition, participants wanted reassurance that contracting practices were realistic, consistent and cost effective, and noted that this could be accomplished in a number of ways, notably through the development of a streamlined proposal template or with a clearer process for clients to request tenders and also for suppliers to complete tenders. Participants noted that a more consistent approach for all requests would allow companies to market their goods or services more effectively to the Government of Canada. Participants also indicated that government departments should continue to partner with sector or trade associations to help streamline procurement in key areas such as construction and information technology.
Some participants expressed a desire to have lower value contracts posted on MERX or on a parallel system, and that the thresholds for contracting should be more clearly communicated. In addition, the requirements of responding to the solicitation document should be tied to these thresholds. In other words, developing a simplified procurement process for lower value contracts. A simplified process in general may encourage the use of GETS by clients within federal departments and agencies.
Suppliers would like to see an increased use of Advance Contract Award Notices as a means to accomplish transparency within the procurement process. Furthermore, internal marketing and promoting awareness of existing standing offer lists to government purchasers (client departments and agencies) will ensure that the procurement process runs efficiently and will meet the objectives of fairness and transparency. In addition, use of existing tools (e.g. standing offer lists) will reduce the overall costs for suppliers as well as for government departments. Suppliers also discussed the financial and technical costs associated with submitting a bid, which can at times be a burden to small and medium enterprises. For some, the structure of the procurement process can generate too many bidders, which renders the process less efficient. In sum, suppliers indicated that a key priority of procurement policies should be reducing barriers to small businesses while simultaneously optimizing the costs of doing business in an efficient as possible manner.
Suppliers felt that the evaluation of submissions should consider a range of values in bids in addition to price, notably value for money, regional fairness, innovation, job creation and environmental impact. In their view, the evaluation process should be rooted in a value for money approach, not just price, as the proposal with the lowest cost is not necessarily the best proposal. To address value for money issues, they felt that the current policy over-structures the bidding process and limits communication.
In addition, suppliers suggested that the Government of Canada should consider how it might better support innovation and perhaps favour bids that lead to job creation or create opportunities for Canadian products. Other participants wondered if the process should consider bids that minimize environmental impact. They also thought the procurement process should promote regional fairness, for example, by allowing additional travel costs for regional bidders or by excluding consideration of travel costs in the evaluation process, as currently the scope of solicitations often favours the National Capital Region.
Suppliers believed that the Government of Canada should provide orientation and training on procurement to ensure clients within federal departments and agencies understand the procurement process clearly. They indicated that more training on how and when to prepare solicitation documents within federal departments and agencies might also help improve consistency and practicality of solicitations. For example, requiring client research on the feasibility of key bid requirements and encouraging innovation in purchasing would improve the quality of solicitation documents. Participants indicated the quality of solicitations (or Requests For Proposals) is not always high, and that the preparation of solicitation documents before they are publicly posted should be a facilitated process.
Suppliers felt that bidding documents required for solicitations should be simplified and streamlined, given that the current system is complex and unclear. As briefly mentioned in the previous section, participants have indicated that the requirements should correspond to the value of the contract. This concept has been extended to apply to bidding, as suppliers have indicated that the time to develop and costs associated with the submission as well as the mandatory and other criteria used to determine compliance should correspond with the contract amount. An example provided was in relation to the insurance and liability requirements, and according to suppliers, these should be proportionate with the contract value. Participants indicated that the individuals responsible for preparing the solicitation documents should ensure that they are: printable, unlocked to allow for reuse, have a cover page that is clean, easy to read, print, and finally that the cover page should contain enough information that the document can be forwarded for assessment by others.
Suppliers indicated the solicitations should be specific about requests for information, rather than making "overall" requests, to simplify and shorten responses.
With regard to streamlining the process, suppliers mentioned that the government should make access to all bid documents easy and electronic, and should eliminate the picking up of bid documents as a waste of energy and paper. They indicated the GETS should allow the download of all bid documents simultaneously to avoid need for multiple file downloads.
On multiple occasions, suppliers indicated that the federal government should include in a single web site (a "supplier portal") with all the information on the procurement process as well as information on identifying and responding to federal government opportunities. Suppliers suggested that the registration process could be simplified to allow a single registration rather than registering through several sites and obtaining multiple numbers. For example, they felt that the Procurement Business Number (PBN) might not be needed, as the PBN is based on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) number, so simply registering as a business might register a company with the GETS. They indicated that once registered, the single site should serve as the primary source for all information that may be needed to help businesses navigate the procurement process and include all relevant systems, including but not limited to Buy and Sell, Supplier Registration Information, and Contract History. They indicated the site should be new technology/mobile friendly and in addition to providing access to all federal business opportunities, it should clarify and coordinate involvement in other systems such as Professional Services Online as well as in the processing of security clearances, including any forms, timelines and costs associated with obtaining the clearance. Participants indicated the federal government should continue to provide free access to bidding materials for all Government of Canada tenders, including a broader number of tenders for smaller contracts. 12
With the notion of a single web site in mind, participants had mixed views on exactly what improvements or changes could be made to the current MERX system. Some suppliers were content with the MERX system and believed that modest improvements would enable the site to continue to meet the needs of government. Others felt that the electronic tendering system should be operated directly by the Government of Canada and not contracted out to a third party. On the other hand, some felt that a number of other systems should be considered, and the Government of Canada should re-tender the contract for services offered by MERX. In contrast, others thought that the GETS should be integrated with other systems through data sharing and exchange, for example with CANet, which is a system specifically for construction. This integrated system would likely act as a standalone system, but would allow data sharing with other systems, allowing the market place to develop solutions that would draw on information in GETS. Regardless of which approach is employed, suppliers wanted a simplified system, that included site-wide search capabilities for locating new opportunities, other information about conducting business with the Government of Canada, highlighted success profiles which demonstrate how people won contracts to supply to the government and how the procurement system functions.
Participants also mentioned that it is imperative that the Government of Canada improve and enhance the search and sort features of the GETS. Currently, there are too many separate sections and according to suppliers the system should integrate a better method of searching for current business opportunities. Some suppliers indicated that the system should enable specific searches for federal, provincial or private opportunities so that suppliers are not required to view pages of opportunities that are not of interest. Other suppliers wanted the system to allow users to search for specific opportunity types, for example, filtering by Request for Propossal (RFPs), ACANs or Requests for Information (RFIs). In addition, some suppliers indicated that they would like to filter business opportunities based on the information contained within their business profile.
In sum, suppliers were looking for ways to improve both the filtering and sorting of opportunities to include region, contract value, opportunity type (Standing Offers, ACANs, RFPs, RFIs), or by department/agency. Some wanted the system to include categories and sub-categories, as the current system is limited to high-level categories. Specifically, suppliers mentioned the need to clean up the existing category hierarchies to create a more precise categorization of goods and services contracts. Many suppliers were aware of Goods and Services Industry Number (GSIN) codes, which are used to categorize the goods and services. However, many felt that this needed to be modernized and that a common glossary of industry keywords be established to allow filtering by industry from an industry perspective. Suppliers noted that the government should balance precision with relevance in the use of categories and felt that the current categories are too general, which renders them less helpful. Several participants indicated that the government should employ the same terminology in all systems (e.g. MERX, Professional Services Online, and SRI).
Suppliers expressed a desire to have a more responsive alerting system. Some participants had limited experience with the current notification system in MERX, and indicated they would like to have access to automatic notifications by email based on a number of search criteria. Suppliers who had experience with the current notification system felt that there should be no additional costs associated with different sets of keywords. Some participants believed that notifications of tenders should be sent automatically as the tenders relate to the information contained in their profile. An additional suggestion was that the system could provide notices of upcoming business opportunities.
On multiple occasions, it was expressed that the government should be more proactive with advising the public of business opportunities. One example of a proactive approach would be for the government to email industry specific tendering to companies within that industry. This would allow suppliers to receive relevant RFPs rather than having to search for them.
Participants were content that access to federal business opportunities was free, and would like for this to continue in the future. In the event of amendments to documents that have been downloaded, some suppliers indicated that they would prefer to receive the actual amendment instead of a notification advising them to log into MERX to download the new information.
For all notifications, participants indicated that the GETS should in the future permit more than one contact point within a registered company to send addendums or other notices to. They indicated that the system now is not flexible enough to allow multiple contacts to accommodate situations within the vendor organization, such as personnel changes.
On the whole, suppliers thought the GETS should allow for direct contact between suppliers and the client within the department or agency regarding bids and service delivery, instead of the relationship being managed through the procurement officer. Suppliers recognized that accountability issues have resulted in limited access to the contracting authority and highlighted that there is a current focus on risk avoidance. Instead of improving transparency, the strict rules governing interactions and the need to ensure that suppliers are able to deliver on requirements have reduced transparency. Suppliers highlighted the importance of establishing a direct line of communication with the client department or agency, which could be accomplished without violating ethical obligations to maintain an open and transparent competitive process. It was also suggested that an online tracking system be implemented for questions regarding a particular solicitation, and this process would ensure that questions are addressed promptly.
Some suppliers suggested that the Government of Canada hold pre-tender information sessions to discuss details regarding upcoming tenders, while others suggested that this could be achieved electronically through regular updates and/or anticipated schedules for upcoming opportunities. They indicated that a best practice in this regard might be the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC), who has also integrated "green" considerations into their supply chain and who provides advance notices of upcoming solicitations.
Participants indicated that the next GETS should implement a bid status system, which would allow bidders to track the status of their bids and to inquire about progress in the processing of the bids. Some suppliers also indicated that the government should ensure that the evaluation and award process is completed promptly and according to tighter deadlines.
Suppliers also felt that the future electronic tendering system should allow all users to view existing lists of suppliers on standing offer lists and should implement a process to allow the disclosure of rates on these standing offers.
Participants thought that information within the GETS could be more efficiently managed and reused, including supplier information and information sharing (for example, using xml feeds) regarding business opportunities. Suppliers again suggested that a "supplier portal" be developed, and extended to store information about registered suppliers, notably industry, size, previous contracts awarded and history. It is through this portal that information could be reused for future bidding opportunities, and enable suppliers to establish preferences for services provided through the GETS (e.g. email notification). Suppliers suggested that the information contained within the GETS could be more interactive and simplified by including a bid calendar on upcoming opportunities and decision deadlines regarding submitted bids.
Suppliers also believed that the system should be expanded to allow data exchange and sharing, particularly of the metadata collected on business opportunities. By allowing subscription to this metadata by individual suppliers, or by other tendering systems, the GETS might enhance and broaden its audience, reaching existing suppliers more effectively as well as potential new suppliers. In addition, such an approach might allow seamless integration with other tendering systems, notably the Canadian Construction Association CANet tendering system or dgMarket. The focus of such an approach would be data describing the business opportunity rather than the documents directly.
A large percentage of suppliers indicated that to the extent possible, the submissions of bids should occur electronically. Participants felt that the current process of requiring paper proposals is technically unnecessary and may place regional firms at a disadvantage as they incur additional courier costs and time delays in delivering the submission. In situations where hard copy proposals are necessary, some suppliers suggested that the Government of Canada should allow delivery at alternative locations for regional suppliers, including at Canada Post outlets or other regional offices of the department or agency. It is important to note that suppliers had different perspectives on what electronic submission entailed; for some it was delivery of the proposal through a secure website, while for others it meant submission via email.
Suppliers believed that there should be public disclosure of bid results after the decision is made, including the number of bids submitted, the number of bids that were considered, the winning supplier and the value of the contract awarded. They also indicated that a standard debrief format should be provided for any bid submitted without suppliers having to make a specific request. This would serve as a learning opportunity and also ensures that individual bidders are not perceived as burdening clients or the procurement process with their request. Some suppliers recommended that the debriefing could be completed online. Suppliers indicated that the disclosure of bid details with individual bidders should be private in order to avoid the disclosure of intellectual property. Suppliers mentioned that the disclosure should indicate how the criteria were applied to each bid.
Suppliers indicated that access to contract history should be enhanced, which should either be included in the "supplier portal" if it is developed or within the GETS. Whichever approach is employed, the system containing contract history should include enhanced reporting and adaptation using available data, for example, by exploring amounts spent by region or category.
Finally, some suppliers indicated that the Government of Canada should collect and disclose information about the success of vendors in completing projects and meeting the requirements of the statement of work contained in the solicitation document. This information would enable both suppliers and government buyers to learn about which suppliers to conduct business with, and which suppliers need to improve their approach to delivering on contract requirements. The process should allow dialogue between the supplier and the government client at the end of the contract, in order to facilitate accountability and improve performance.
Suppliers believed that the overall usability of the system could be improved, and cited the simplification of the menus as an example. The current tendering system provided by MERX should be modernized and made more user-friendly. Some additional features that could be added include being able to bookmark favourite pages, and enable suppliers to use the "previous page" button without encountering navigation errors.
In light of the suggestions offered by suppliers, they indicated that there would be six key challenges for the federal government to consider in moving forward, which are described in the sections that follow.
Suppliers noted that a number of external factors might impose limitations on the development of an improved system. For example, some aspects of procurement policy and process are designed to accommodate rules and broader trade policies as set out under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Suppliers acknowledged that the Government of Canada has no control over the thresholds imposed under international trade agreements. However, some domestic policies may act as constraints to the development of an effective electronic tendering system, and thus some of these may need to be adjusted. One example provided was the need to clarify the notion of regional fairness in procurement policy.
Suppliers felt there was an inconsistent application of procurement policy by federal departments and agencies, and were sceptical of contracts awarded. Some did not perceive the existing system as open or transparent based on their personal experiences. Furthermore, the use of department specific procurement approval processes complicated the process even further. Some suppliers were under the impression that personal relationships with decision makers are key to winning business. In order to address these concerns, suppliers believed that there should be an alternative to dispute decisions, both during the bid process and following contract award, and offered the use of mediation as a means to resolve conflict and enhance transparency and accountability.
Participants made a number of specific suggestions related to procurement policies: have clients focus on requirements rather than on specifications; have clients focus on outputs and results versus inputs; and, stop outsourcing tenders or reviewing bid proposals solely based on the bottom line. On this last point, participants indicated that a lack of expertise (subject matter) and a number of procurement vehicles support removing large volumes of work opportunities from the realm of competition.
It was unclear to suppliers the extent to which the federal government could consider other options given its current commitment to MERX. The majority of suppliers believed that current technology to support the GETS (MERX) is inflexible and lagging. Suppliers thought that MERX would be facing increasing competition from more robust systems in specific areas, such as construction. Some suppliers felt that, based on the level of funding provided to MERX and the type of tendering the current system supports, the government is currently funding work that affects the development of other private sectors, including potential competitive tendering systems. As a result, suppliers believed that the government should learn from these other systems and aim towards better integration of multiple systems. Their idea was that GETS should be managed internally and not contracted out to a third party provider, which could facilitate the integration of GETS with other electronic systems.
Suppliers believed that some of the improvements suggested would not be difficult to implement, and thus wanted to see some improvements made promptly. They were also concerned that budget constraints and some of the more expensive changes would reduce willingness to improve both procurement process and the GETS, which may also affect the short-term improvements. The suppliers identified two key barriers related to implementing improvements: (1) security, confidentiality and privacy of online information and (2) the need to clarify the intellectual property associated with this information.
Suppliers were concerned that the existence of multiple stakeholders with conflicting agendas will act as a significant obstacle to implementing change, as both current suppliers and clients will resist the adjustments. Suppliers who have existing long-term standing offers or supply arrangements may be disadvantaged by improvements was one example provided for an unwillingness to change. Suppliers also indicated that Information Technology Departments are also likely to resistance change, as any new adjustments to the existing systems introduce new errors and support issues.
Participants felt that implementing a consistent system would require change management. Implementation was understood as potentially costly and thus suppliers re-emphasized the benefits of a change management approach, which would address training needs, address any concerns about the perceived cost of change, and ensure that the appropriate people, process, technology and communication needed to move forward would be in place.
To address the needs of various types of users, suppliers indicated the federal government should listen to its user community, and collaborate with employees, clients departments and agencies, and suppliers together simultaneously to create a way to move forward. Suppliers believed the process for implementing change should remain simple to ensure that the feedback received is incorporated.
Suppliers believed that a large number of specific technical and administrative issues would need to be overcome in order to implement any changes. It was recognized that sorting through artificial and arbitrary deadlines, clarifying thresholds for contract amounts and the procurement process, as well as simplifying mandatory requirements would be a time-consuming process. Other suppliers highlighted that certain technical issues including privacy laws might restrict information sharing and thereby limit the openness of the system. Some of the issues raised include:
Suppliers indicated that the process for addressing these as well as other technology challenges would have to be considered in light of technological advances. It was highlighted that the federal government should have a plan that allows the system to be able to keep up with the technological advances.
Some suppliers experienced personnel changes within the federal government and were concerned that a loss and/or turnover of capacity (personnel) would lead to a continued revisiting of old issues, which would limit any developments and improvements to the tendering system.
To address this challenge, suppliers suggested that the federal government set in place the required budget for hiring/training staff to assist both suppliers and clients in facilitating procurement and in streamlining changes to the GETS.
Suppliers indicated that even with the changes, all suppliers might not be able to access an online system, primarily because not everyone has broadband Internet access. They felt the federal government would have to consider how to provide access to these potential suppliers, and provide an example of implementing an Internet cafe model for government opportunities through Service Canada outlets. Limited or no access to the Internet creates difficulties for suppliers to become aware of any changes and updates to the system, and suppliers felt that the federal government should make an effort to ensure users of the system were aware of updates through other avenues. On this note, suppliers suggested that the Government of Canada should promote to the public any shifts in the system or in the procurement policies. A communication plan should be developed to ensure that all users are aware of any updates to the system. Suppliers feel that the communication efforts should occur at least four times per year, and also should seek feedback from the public on the changes and the methods used to advise of the change.
All interested parties, namely procurement officers, clients and suppliers, should have access to training about the changes in the tendering system.
During the workshops, suppliers were asked to provide OSME with specific recommendations on how to move forward with any of the proposed improvements or enhancements to the GETS. The following sections describe the four themes that were most prevalent among suppliers.
Suppliers recommended that OSME engage regularly with industry to provide updates on procurement policies and remain aware of any challenges facing suppliers.
Suppliers were supportive of the broad principles of current procurement policy, and hoped that OSME would work to strengthen and redefine policies and values in alignment with the recommendations provided by suppliers through the consultation process.
Suppliers advocated that there should be further promotion of SMEs, primarily highlighting their uniqueness and abilities (value of using a SME) to other federal departments and agencies. Suppliers suggested that each federal department and agency set aside a percentage of their purchasing budget for SMEs; something similar to set aside program for Aboriginal businesses. Suppliers thought that OSME should establish performance measures regarding the promotion of SMEs, and that OSME should regularly report its progress against these measures. Furthermore, suppliers believed that OSME could serve as an agent to help establish relationships between suppliers and clients, perhaps by hosting "get to know you" meetings or supplier conferences. Some suggested that OSME create an online list of vendors with public and private viewing areas, which could serve as yellow pages for government clients. Such an integrated database of buyers and sellers would support networking and would allow evaluations of company service and testimonials to be posted.
Suppliers thought that OSME could create a supplier development program, to help suppliers understand and build capacity for working for the federal government.
In alignment with supporting SME business with the federal government, suppliers indicated OSME should promote regional business opportunities. They highlighted that regions are different and that the federal government should aim to respect these differences. They suggested that OSME develop a formula that is bidder location sensitive and stressed the importance of reducing national influence/policy over regional needs.
They indicated that OSME should be a steward of providing more and easier access to information about procurement, including contract history, decision making criteria and communicating timelines for upcoming opportunities. Suppliers believed that OSME could work to open up the federal government to external input on RFP development and evaluation, which would build understanding and capacity within the supplier community.
Suppliers suggested that OSME take a leadership role in ensuring that improvements and changes are made to the current system as well as the development of any future systems. Suppliers also indicated that OSME should develop a comprehensive plan for implementation, including: a business plan which would identify priorities, directions and outline measurable results, a feasibility study which would be used to establish reasonable timelines for change, and a budget, both at a strategic level and at a detailed level. The comprehensive plan should summarize requirements, develop common themes and lead to a thorough technical design.
Participants recommended that OSME take a phased approach to implementation, which would aim for constant improvements and would be based on a twelve-month work plan. They cautioned that the development process should be implemented in a timeframe relevant to technological improvements.
As OSME moves to implementation, participants suggested that OSME continue to gather user perspectives at a variety of levels by developing user groups and conducting ongoing usability testing. They indicated that OSME should consider a public forum to promote transparency and obtain input from all interested parties. They indicated that ensuring feedback prior to system implementation would be a key to success.
Suppliers indicated that the GETS should become increasingly user-friendly, and that further consultations to share perspectives, communicate feedback and educate system users across different user groups would be important.
Suppliers appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback, and suggested that in the future, OSME should communicate the timelines for any consultation sessions further in advance.
Attached as Appendix 1: Action Plan is an action plan covering the primary recommendations that suppliers provided. Some of the suggested recommendations have already been actioned or are part of the ongoing undertakings of PWGSC. Appendix 2: Results from individual workshop consultation sessions provides a visual representation of the themes and recommendations discussed at each of the in person consultation sessions.
1 Note, at the consultation sessions, participants were provided a list of databases and web sites operated by the Government of Canada to support accessing business opportunities. (Return to original Footnote 1)
2 Some participants indicated that access to all solicitations not just the federal government's solicitations should be free on MERX, the current solution for GETS. However, this suggestion is at tension with the notion of a single federal site with all solicitations and other information related to Government of Canada business opportunities, and is under the control of other organizations and agencies participating in MERX, not the Government of Canada. (Return to original Footnote 2)