Electronic Commerce - a New Partner in Support of Public Policy

Article excerpt

Governments everywhere are faced with the same nagging problem. How to satisfy increasing public demand for service while dramatically reducing the cost of government? It is a tricky balancing act in which everyone agrees that reductions and cuts are needed, yet has trouble agreeing on what programs or services should be slashed. Except for one area: administration.

In the 'seventies and 'eighties Ottawa was labelled "Fat-Cat" city, feeding a popular perception that the federal bureaucracy was bloated. If this was ever true, it isn't any longer. Successive cut-backs, freezes and ongoing attrition over die past few years have forced most departments and agencies to trim administration to the point where cuts now directly affect the delivery of service.

It is fashionable these days to talk about "doing more with less," but can it really be done? Supply and Services Canada (SSC) is proving it can, through the imaginative application of electronic commerce.

As the largest purchasing arm of the federal government, its job is to get the best value for the taxpayer's dollar, and provide open and fair access to government contracts to all Canadians. In 1989, then SSC Minister, Paul Dick, responding to Canadian business, committed the Department to opening up the procurement process. The policy, called Open Bidding Service (OBS), would achieve two things: provide all Canadians with the opportunity to compete for federal contracts; and ensure that public contracts went to the most competitive bidders.

Prior to Open Bidding, buyers at SSC invited companies to register as suppliers to the government, and maintained source-lists of these suppliers. When a contract opportunity arose, buyers automatically sent bid requests to the companies on the lists.

In order to introduce Open Bidding, department staff had to re-think the process from the ground up, as to use conventional advertising methods would have been extremely expensive. They found answers in information technology and electronic commerce tools which have provided a classic win-win solution for both suppliers and taxpayers. Two years of consultation and pilot testing with suppliers resulted in an electronic bulletin board service which suppliers use to find contracts and order bid documents quickly and easily.

SSC did not want to re-invent the wheel. So rather than build a large network and establish new databases and support services, the Department held a competition to find a Canadian company to offer OBS services at the lowest cost to subscribers. …