Buyandsell.gc.ca, the federal government’s new tendering tool for purchasing goods and services, got off to a rocky start.
For a week after the site went live on June 1, it did not post any new contracting opportunities, according to one local procurement expert. That meant vendors interested in selling to the government did not have access to information they needed to make bids on extremely time-sensitive contracts.
“It really wasn’t a smooth rollout from a functioning perspective, but after a week or so it at least became usable,” said Keith Parker, president of The Proposal Centre, an Ottawa-based procurement consulting firm.
The federal government announced in April that it planned to move all of its tenders to its new website. The decision brought to an end its exclusive nine-year relationship with Merx, a subsidiary of Mediagrif Interactive Technologies Inc. that used to be the only place government contracts were posted.
Most of the early hiccups with the new portal have been resolved, Mr. Parker said. Others, however, persist: Buyandsell.gc.ca still wasn’t offering notifications of amendments to tenders as of early July, he said, meaning would-be vendors have been obliged to manually check any bids in which they’re interested.
But despite the site’s less-than-ideal beginning, Mr. Parker said he’s optimistic the government’s decision to move to a new system will be for the best.
“Like any change, there’s been some new functions, new features, new ways of doing things that vendors have had to learn and that seems to be an ongoing process,” he said.
Those who deal frequently with the government’s tenders are particularly excited about Buyandsell.gc.ca’s new search functions.
Christopher Smith, president and CEO of open-source software firm OPIN, said his company used to have to hire someone to sort through Merx’s website to find tenders that would be of interest.
“When you’ve got 15 or 20 of these tenders to read every day, it gets pretty time-consuming,” he said. “What we ended up finding was there was no easy way to get that information out of Merx.”
Mr. Smith said the Buyandsell.gc.ca site allows them to get the content using RSS feeds, which automatically aggregate new updates for website subscribers. That makes it possible for vendors to specifically get notifications on tenders that are related to IT services, for example.
However, there are still functions that vendors would like to see added in the future, such as a document request list that would show who has asked to see each tendering package.
This would allow businesses to see which of their competitors – and, in some cases, partners – are also interested in bidding.
This is a feature the government has no immediate plans to add.
“At this time, the service is based on accessing a tender document through a single click rather than requiring users to register, as registration of users generally reduces broad public access to information,” wrote Public Works spokesperson Sébastien Bois in an e-mail.
“Given the interest in this functionality, we will consider adding this as an optional feature.”
SIDEBAR: What will become of Merx?
Merx, the independently owned website that for nine years was the only place vendors could go to look for federal government contracts, is still operating.
The new website, Buyandsell.gc.ca, is open source. That means sites such as Merx can take the federal government’s information and post it.
However, the federal government recommends that vendors use Buyandsell.gc.ca as their primary source of information.
“Users are encouraged to refer to Buyandsell.gc.ca ... for government procurement, to ensure they have the most up-to-date information, documents and amendments,” wrote Sébastien Bois, a spokesperson for Public Works and Government Services Canada, in an e-mail.
Merx continues to publish contracts for other levels of government. This includes the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario.