Ingenious Awards 2012: Innovation Rewarded

Innovation Case Study: BuyandSell.gc.ca

It used to be a truism that government procurement was complex and confusing. The process not only requires vendors to meet precise, multi-faceted requirements—it can also have different rules depending on the good or service being purchased, and the value of the transaction.

While large organizations may be able to afford to devote resources to navigating the various procurement rules, it was sometimes a different story for small business. The federal government created the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME) within Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) to address this fundamental issue.

"Small businesses didn't see themselves reflected in government procurement policies and practices," said Shereen Benzvy Miller, Direct0r General of OSME. "To remedy this, we set up six regional offices to create local connections with small- and medium-sized enterprises." The result is an organization that goes wherever people need them, and offers seminars tailored to the small and medium enterprise (SME) community. The seminars also reflect Canada's increasing diversity, providing information in both official languages, as well as Punjabi and Mandarin.

It was soon determined that these outreach activities, combined with extended telephone service hours, were still not meeting every need. When OSME asked potential clients what more it could do, the response was overwhelming. They told OSME that they needed more access via the Internet: it was still too difficult to find the business information, intelligence, and data they needed to use the government procurement system. The $20 billion spent each year by the federal government could be a significant market for SMEs, but they needed more help.

OSME listened, and responded by creating a space on the Internet designed to ensure a positive user experience for both the supplier and buyer communities. That space is Buyandsell.gc.ca, which helps meet the government's pledge to simplify and streamline the way it does business.

Explaining the decision to include both vendors and customers, Miller said, "We would hear industry say, 'You seem to know lots about what you're buying, but we don't have the same information.' They wanted information on what we buy, how we are buying, which departments might be potential customers, etc., so they could know who to target in their marketing and what to include in business plans."

One example concerns firms that fail to qualify for standing offers. While some were informed that they could act as a sub-contractor to qualified companies, there was nowhere they could go to determine who was qualified. To address this, Buyandsell.gc.ca now publishes a weekly updated pre-qualified supplier data set that can be sorted by a number of criteria, in an effort to build and support a healthy supply chain.

Information on Buyandsell.gc.ca is flexible and user-centred by design, organized by audience, by industry sector and by elements that are common to each page. Users can find relevant information in a number of ways, including keyword searches, menu or index navigation, or through a site map.

A major goal of the site is to reduce the cost of doing business with government, by making information accessible and making it clear who suppliers can go to if they require more details. In addition, the site aims to reflect the government's overall transparency goals.

Another objective met was easing the burden on procurement officers who field calls from vendors: after Buyandsell.gc.ca went live, calls to Acquisitions Branch's information line declined by over 30 percent.

Client reaction has been positive, and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services is very pleased. "We've received great feedback, both on the program and on the ease of access," Minister Rona Ambrose reported.

Bringing Buyandsell.gc.ca to life over the past nine months has effectively leveraged open technology and open standards, with expertise from quite a few small businesses. One senior manager expressed the outcome this way: "We can work with a variety of experts to increase our internal core competency, which is managing procurement, and the output of what we do—the technological artifacts—are sharable with anybody. We think that's a real economic benefit."

A highly visible component of the site is its feedback mechanism, and it is clear that Buyandsell.gc.ca is a work in progress. As the department expands its efforts toward helping companies do business with the Government of Canada and having the site serve the entrepreneur community better, it will continue to be enriched.

Over the next year, Buyandsell.gc.ca will release its new layout, which will follow the government's new design standards and improve the procurement data available to businesses to help them do business.

For the entire story, please see Ingenious Magazine