Shared Services Canada’s challenge is to lessen the number of government data centres from more than 300 to less than 20, and to reduce 100 e-mail servers down to just one.
But the first steps in this complex process are already drawing concerns from the Canadian Business Information Technology Network, or CABiNET, which represents independent IT consulting firms in the National Capital Region.
What troubles CABiNET chair Jeff Lynt is a recent notification to suppliers from Public Works informing them that shared services will invoke a national security exception for e-mail, network and data centre systems, infrastructure and services.
The notice warns suppliers without a security clearance to begin applying for one now, as procurements will not be delayed to give suppliers time to do so.
Mr. Lynt said he feels this implies larger firms only will be considered. Although he acknowledged some companies already have the required security clearances, he said he worries this exemption will shut out many small and medium-sized firms.
“Shared Services falling under this (exemption) is just one more attempt to move things around without people standing in the way of their agenda,” Mr. Lynt said.
“It really is an ideology: ‘We are going to do this. Don’t think you’re going to get in our way.’”
Furthermore, since the exemption would limit U.S. firms from vying for business in Canadian competitions, Mr. Lynt is concerned that country may respond by introducing restrictions of its own, shutting out Canadian businesses from government contracts south of the border.
SMALL FIRMS NEED NOT APPLY
CABiNET has been a vocal critic of the government’s procurement plans for Shared Services over the years.
Its first fight was against plans to bundle contracts into mega-deals that would effectively shut out small and medium-sized business from Shared Services work because they lacked the capacity to take on 10-figure deals and would have been unable to show past experience with contracts of a similar size and scope.
After apparently reaching a compromise on contract bundling, CABiNET officials said they were surprised in 2009 when the government said it wanted to lump the procurement of professional services in with technology products by purchasing what is known as “managed services.”
They said at the time that such an approach would prevent SMEs from gaining direct access to the related government contracts.
Mr. Lynt said the government is now trying to treat IT services as a commodity – similar to how a consumer would purchase a package of Internet, cable and communications services from a single telecom firm – and have the supplier take care of everything.
Similarly, Herman Yeh, the president of the Canadian Information Technology Providers Association, said he’s concerned the government is invoking the security exemption merely as an excuse to exclusively use larger integrators.
Mr. Yeh said that by asking for a single e-mail solution, the government is effectively telling smaller firms that they need not apply.
In an e-mail to OBJ, a Public Works spokesperson stated it is not looking to limit the size of the vendor that applies to these solicitations, and that the security exemption was put in place to create a “cyber perimeter” for government IT.
“(Shared Services) welcomes the participation of any and all vendors, on their own or in consortia that can meet its requirements and provide the best value for money,” the e-mail read.
“Its supplier relationships will respect the guiding principles of the procurement process and apply the best practices of Public Works … and other government departments in establishing contracts for major initiatives.”
FINDING A MIDDLE GROUND
Officials at other industry groups are also worried. Kevin Dee, CEO of Eagle Professional Resources Inc., said he has heard concerns from his IT members and hopes the government will find a middle ground between security concerns and supplier participation.
He suggested the national security exemption is a blunt and unnecessary instrument since there are existing preapproved vendor lists that the government can use on an as-needed basis.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business framed the battle as one between a government seeking lowest cost and suppliers who are arguing they can provide the best value.
“If the question is going to be which company can offer services at lowest cost, on paper that shuts out small business,” said Louis Martin-Parent, an Ottawa-based policy analyst for CFIB.
“It’s not like (SMEs) aren’t cost-effective, but at the same time there are other aspects they could bring to the operation.”
Shared Services’ objectives for consolidating e-mail
- Reduce IT complexity and overall cost by eliminating duplication and streamlining e-mail operations;
- Offer scalability, whereby the e-mail platform and services can be leveraged by the rest of the government on a cost-recovery basis;
- Establish e-mail interoperability (i.e. a single e-mail standard) across departments and agencies;
- Implement standard e-mail security measures and controls across all departments to ensure that they all have a robust protection against e-mail threats.
- Source: Letter of interest, e-mail transformation initiative
Some recent solicitations related to Shared Services Canada include:
- A supply arrangement, open to vendors on a prequalified list, for a technical architect, technical writer, business transformation architect and two instructors. The budget is $1 million to $5 million. (Closed July 16)
- A bid solicitation for voice-over-Internet products, accessories and services. (Closed July 16)
- A request for information regarding the centralized e-mail initiative, which includes an offer of a security briefing. (Closed July 18)
- A letter of interest for developing a military personnel management capability transformation project, which will centralize payroll, human resources and other services under new IT. (Closes Aug. 31)