It’s no secret that the procurement system in Canada needs upgrades, and the federal government is testing out a new tool to improve its open by default pilot portal.

The open by default pilot is an online portal that makes government content available as a way to increase transparency, stimulate innovation, and accelerate development. Four departments are accessible through it, including Canadian Heritage, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

However, the government is looking for ways to improve the portal, and has issued an open tender notice through the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) website. According to Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), proposals will be accepted until Aug. 16, with the pool of pre-qualified proposals scheduled to be invited to Waterloo for 10-minute in-person presentations on Sept. 13.

There will also be French and English language bidder webinars on Aug. 9 for more information, with bidders needing to register no later than Aug. 3.

Essentially, “instead of posting pages of requirements like a regular procurement process, PSPC is asking the industry to propose IT solutions to address usability challenges related to the Open by default portalIn effect, we want to work with industry to identify and focus on performance-based results for improving services to Canadians,” a spokesperson for the federal ministry says.

“We’ve been operating in a paper environment for 150 years, which means that most of our policies don’t reflect the reality of the rapid pace of change that’s going on around us,” Alex Benay, CIO of the Government of Canada, tells IT World Canada. “This is our first micro step into the digital ecosystem and the intent here is to move as much government content as possible online to increase third party participation, collaboration, and co-development of services. We want to be transparent and democratic while also creating economic opportunities.”

Benay explains that the current procurement process can often be dragged out for years, but opening up the process to improve the open by default portal could be a “game changer” by significantly shortening that time. It will give companies the resources to come up with solutions for the government before the government puts out a procurement notice, he says.

“Our traditional way of procurement is to define the project requirements for three or four years, then go through a lengthy request for proposal (RFP) process, then try to actually deploy the solution, which takes even more time. The average cycle for that, end-to-end, is a decade, and in this day and age, that’s unacceptable,” Benay says. “This open tender can help companies come up with real time solutions based on ongoing government issues they see shared on the portal, and shorten the delivery time from decades and years to months.”

John Penhale, senior director of software and shared systems directorate at PWGSC, adds that this move will streamline the procurement process of updating the open by default portal because “third parties can now respond to challenges in the government, rather than the government’s idea of what needs to be done.”

Benay also brings up the fact that the government is often quick to assume that certain data is useless or not relevant, when in fact, it could be very useful to those outside the public sector. He adds that crowdsourcing has become common in recent years, whether for raising funds or developing software, and hopes that the government will be able to leverage this popularity for its own uses.

“Look at Ancestry.com or Flight Tracker or even The Weather Network, for example, and what they’ve become. All those companies have made use of data from the public sector and from government institutions worldwide, and found a way to turn it into something informative and profitable. So we want to stimulate innovation like this, and I think our pilot portal is a good place to start,” he points out.

The pilot portal’s open tender notice has received thousands of views online and its application form has been downloaded approximately 100 times since going live on July 26, according to Penhale.

“The rest of the world is working in an open, innovative ecosystem with lots of collaboration and what I call ‘cross pollination’ across private, public, and academic sectors, and we want that too. From our perspective, we’re trying to systematically reduce the barriers that surround our government and integrate into this ecosystem,” Benay concludes.