Buying into e-gov
Hurry up and wait
The federal government has less than two years to fulfill the goal,
first articulated in the Throne Speech of October 12, 1999, of becoming
"the government most connected to its citizens, with Canadians able
to access all government information and services on-line at the time and
place of their choosing."
As of mid-November 2001, two years later, some information technology
(IT) vendors are wondering when they would begin to see the contracts that
would allow Canada to claim that prize.
Ken Parker, president of Ottawa's Sirius Consulting, worked hard to
persuade the government that small and medium-sized companies should
qualify for Government On-Line (GOL) contracts. He also helped to design
the Supply Arrangement system that should allow them to win a share of GOL
He believes that the GOL procurement process is "a major step
forward. It gives companies a chance to compete, which is essentially what
we want. It gives the clients the best choice at the time they need the
resources. I think it is a good vehicle."
However, as 2001 draws to a close, Parker says he is much less
satisfied with the pace at which contracts are being tendered through the
procurement vehicle he and others in the vendor community helped to
"Are they going to use it?" he asks. After the tragic events
of September 11, he notes, "A number of people in government have
said to people in general, 'get on with your life, fly, spend money, get
back to normal' and it would be encouraging if somebody would say to
people in the government, 'this is what we're doing, let's go
Parker says a number of companies, including his own, positioned
themselves to expect a good deal of business to come from GOL projects.
"If it is not going to," he says, "then it would be nice to
know that, so we can scale back or not carry through with hiring more
people to deal with it. I think it is fair to say that having gone through
all of this, [government] has created a fair amount of expectation and the
volume of business, according to everybody I have talked to, just isn't
The 2000 Federal Budget called for a two-year, $160 million spending
program for GOL. After departments and agencies responded to a July 2000
invitation for project proposals, a steering committee of deputy ministers
selected and approved $60 million worth of proposals. In mid-November 2001
the GOL Procurement Office processed 33 requirements from departments and
agencies, with a total value of about $26 million. Five contracts worth
$1,216,000 had been awarded. (Information about the usage of GOL Supply
Arrangements by client departments and the regional procurement offices
was not available.)
To use the Supply Arrangement implemented by Public Works and
Government Services Canada (PWGSC), client departments and agencies sign a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). By the middle of November, 22
departments and agencies - including Agriculture Canada, Department of
Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Indian and Northern Affairs
Canada and Human Resource Development Canada, Health Canada and Industry
Canada - had signed the MOU, allowing them to issue contracts not
exceeding $80,900 under their own authority.
Mike O'Neil is president of Nortak Inc. and chairman of CABiNET, an
association of smaller IT consulting firms, many of whom are also looking
for contracts under GOL. O'Neil says, "To me, it was clear that [the
terrorist attack on] September 11 was going to do a number on GOL, we all
know that. Maybe it will mean less money for GOL overall."
O'Neil says GOL activity was slow during the summer, "but the
government is always slow during the summer. I feel that given what has
happened, we are lucky to see anything happening at the moment." He
believes many of the GOL contracts that are being advertised right now are
being pushed out to get the money on the table before the December budget.
"There hasn't been many large opportunities come up and those that
have," he says, "might as well be a sole source."
Steve Chamberlain is the CEO of Ridgefalls House, another CABiNET
member. "Many of the departments don't want to sign the GOL MOU,
because they have already got many of their own tailor-made supply
arrangements in place," he says. "The GOL rates that were
proposed are higher, much higher than the rates that were proposed under
many of the existing supply contracts that many of the departments have in
Chamberlain says if he were a project authority at a department or
agency with such a supply contract in place, he would go to that mechanism
first, for reasons of speed and convenience. "We happen to be one of
the companies that holds a supply contract with CCRA [Canada Customs and
Revenue Agency] and generally those requirements have to be filled within
a period of about 48 hours."
Speaking off the record, a federal IT administrator in middle
management says, "You'd go to those contracts because they are easy,
you don't have to run your own processes, your own mini-tendering
exercises or whatever." He speculates, "If they are in fact
hiring that conveniently, you wouldn't expect a take-up until people are
more pressed against the wall and there is a clear and urgent need to do
Many departments, the IT administrator points out, are beginning to
discover the amount of coordination and cooperation that is required to
implement online solutions, "and that would tend to slow it down
also, so that until the different people working on the initiative between
departments and their bureaucracies approve all these things - going up
and down certain levels - that builds in a certain delay."
As well, he says, there is a certain amount of centralized
infrastructure that is not yet available. "For example, Secure
Channel keeps getting pushed out, so if Secure Channel is still being
architected and tested, and if your project depends on that piece of
infrastructure, certificate authorities - a whole bunch of things that
need to be in place and centrally managed - well, if that is lagging, then
take-up on that is going to lag."
He also suggested that some departments are taking advantage of the
downturn in high technology to hire personnel that might otherwise not
have been available. "Is it indicative that the government is doing
less outsourcing just in general as a result of the climate?" he
wonders. "Is the government, rather than requesting consulting
services, are they using more service bureaus that are available?"
His advice to IT consultants who want to sell to government under GOL
contracts is to get out and sell what departments can use. "I think
they have to be a little more proactive, rather than sit back and wait for
the dollars to fall the through the chimney. It ain't gonna happen."