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In my opinion  
spicy comment on nuts and bolts procurement issues

by Michael Asner

Supplier, assert thyself

It is time for suppliers to help determine the agenda and direction of procurement reform.

Over the past year, I've tackled a variety of topics from the need for increased access to information, to the longstanding problem of sole sourcing. Others have written about the law, judgments, remedies, penalties and the occasional outright scandal. Judging from the feedback, these voices seem to resonate strongly with many suppliers. To many small companies, the playing field seems to be tilted; they perceive that government purchasing people have all the power - define the rules, control the information and make the decisions.

Buyers, on the other hand, have troubles of their own balancing a multitude of competing demands: downsizing, doing things faster and better, adding value, fending off political interference, keeping up to date and trying new approaches. The initial push towards electronic government is now a speeding train heading their way. There is a need to manage procurement electronically and meet continuing changes in procurement practices.

Last year, buyers, with broad-based support from federal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as the MASH sector, formed the Canadian Public Procurement Council (CPPC) - an organization focused on procurement reform. Its objective is to "provide appropriate leadership and promote dialogue in public procurement." The CPPC seems to be our equivalent of NASPO, the US-based National Association of State Procurement Officials - a proven effective voice and vehicle for procurement reform. NASPO develops policies, promotes best practices and spearheads reform.

Canadian suppliers expect their trade and industry associations to promote their interests to government. Organizations like the Canadian Advanced Technology Association and the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters, formerly the Canadian Manufacturers Association, bring forward their industry's particular issues to government, and also offer members networking opportunities and chances to share ideas. But, while several trade associations may share the same view of government procurement and identify similar problems, issues and solutions, in the rare instances they do speak, they do so individually, not collectively; it is always only the individual association voice speaking only for their members. The efforts of most industry associations become diluted and fragmented on the political battleground.

What suppliers need in order to be heard is a larger umbrella organization whose focus is to form alliances with, and between, industries to amplify suppliers' voices and ensure that government listens to demands for fairness and equity within procurement reform. Through such an organization, Canadian suppliers could put items on the agenda of the CPPC and its member governments.

The initial steps have been taken to form an umbrella organization, the Business Forum on Public Procurement. Its goal is to "advance the common interests of private sector companies and individuals in the public procurement process." Much of the start-up work has been done, primarily due to its founding director, Paul Lalonde, a lawyer with Heenan Blaikie, specializing in international trade and procurement law. However, the Business Forum is still in its infancy with few members, no staff and no presence in the procurement reform debates.

To see what this sort of organization can accomplish, let's take a look at our biggest trading partner. In the US, the Professional Services Council (PSC) represents more than 500,000 employees of professional and service contractors doing business with the federal government, business and international markets. Founded in 1972, it has had huge successes in effecting change. It has been instrumental in procurement reform including reforming the Federal Acquisition Regulations, changing laws which restricted outsourcing and introducing alternative dispute resolution techniques.

The PSC succeeds because it is a powerful, unified voice in policy debates. It is recognized as a significant and credible player in procurement reform and it is politically active. It plays the "game" in an entirely different way - focusing on political access and presenting a unified voice in legislative and regulatory policy debates.

I believe Canadian suppliers and their trade associations could greatly benefit from the Business Forum on Public Procurement, creating a truly unified voice in policy debates and a strong, single, credible expert player in procurement reform. This Business Forum could permit both individual companies and industry associations to speak more coherently on procurement reform issues. To do this, the Business Forum on Public Procurement requires the support and participation of individuals, corporations and major Canadian trade associations.

In my opinion, it is time for Canadian suppliers to turn up the volume - support the Business Forum on Public Procurement and urge your trade association to form an alliance with them.

Michael Asner, based in Vancouver, is internationally recognized as a procurement expert. He authors The RFP Report, published in Canada and the US, is a regular columnist in Reseller magazine, a Sacramento-based publication, and authored several books on procurement including The Request for Proposal Handbook and Selling To Government. He recently launched a new website, www.proposalworks.com 




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