Government, industry remedy procurement pains

Governments and vendors are engaging “more than ever” in an effort to foster better relationships around IT products and services procurement, according to a Canadian public sector researcher.

Chris Bishop, president of Oakville, Ont.-based Public Sector Research Inc., outlined the challenges faced by both government and Canadian ICT vendors when forging purchasing agreements, during a presentation at the GTEC 2007 conference held in Ottawa last week.

Bishop said establishing a standard code of conduct that will govern government ICT procurements will be one of the challenges in improving government-vendor relations.

“Do we want a quasi-legal code? Should (governments) develop this with vendors? Some vendors would say they already have a corporate code, so why should they have to sign up to a separate code,” Bishop said.

A “good practice code” for procurement should ensure “fairness to both sides,” providing a capable solution to governments, while ensuring that vendors get a fair return, he said.

Legal issues around software licensing and intellectual property, limitations of liability and sole-source contracts are some of the more typical points of discussion between government and vendors, said Bishop.

The Ontario government and the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) are leading the initiative to improve procurement policies and processes, said Bishop.

Last August, the Government of Ontario announced it was working with ITAC to make the procurement process more competitive, with Ontario’s CIO Ron McKerlie stating the government has “taken a step forward by addressing some terms and conditions that were putting up barriers to competition for some vendors.”

Some factors that have presented challenges in the past centre around policy, said ITAC vice-president Linda Oliver. And that is one of the areas the Ontario Ministry of Government Services (MGS) is currently reviewing, she added.

Some of these policy issues would only require a change in how the agreement is worded, while some would require a review of the government’s own internal policies or approval by the proper authorities, but that are affecting the way vendors are doing business with government, said Oliver.

Oliver said making it easier to do business with governments in a fair, open and transparent manner will help the public sector obtain greater participation from the vendor community.

“Greater participation from vendors always drives better pricing…and drives innovation,” said Oliver.

Similar initiatives are also underway with the federal government through the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services (PWGSC), as well as with other Canadian municipalities, said the ITAC executive.

“The best part of this whole process (of consultation) is you get to hear what (government) thinks. And a lot of it is a matter of reassuring government folks that industry is willing to step up and be accountable for all the products and services they sell,” Oliver said.

ITAC and the Ontario Ministry of Government Services are expected to reconvene this fall in an ongoing effort to evaluate and improve procurement processes and policies, said Oliver.

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