B.C. government’s new procurement strategy spurring innovation

Mark Lowey
August 15, 2018

The British Columbia government’s new strategy for securing goods and services is already creating new opportunities for innovative technology companies in the province, says Jinny Sims, B.C. Minister of Citizens’ Services.

The strategy, announced in June and being led by Sims’s ministry, implemented streamlined, more transparent, and automated procurement processes to replace the 20-year-old BC Bid system. The strategy also includes: ‘right-sized’ procurements accessible to small and medium-sized firms; a new program that enables tech companies to fast-track innovative solutions; and a new “procurement concierge” that matches government buyers and suppliers of innovative products.

“With our new procurement strategy, our message is: ‘Government is Open for Business,’ Sims told RE$EARCH MONEY. “We’re using public dollars to grow the economy and decent-paying jobs, and to help innovation and improve services for citizens at the same time.”

The B.C. government spends more than $6 billion annually on goods and services.

The new strategy was designed with input from more than 200 vendor representatives and industry groups from the technology, construction and economic sectors, as well as government ministries.

They told the government that it had a very complicated, lengthy and antiquated procurement services process, Sims says. Prior to the new strategy, every company had to go through the complex BC Bid process, whether it was for providing a $5-million software solution or a major infrastructure project costing $250 million or more.

“So for the technology sector, it just wasn’t a good fit. A lot of them said they couldn’t afford to bid for the procurement, because it was very costly and time consuming,” Sims says. Small and medium-sized companies especially “just didn’t see the opportunity to put forward new products and innovation.”

With the new strategy, the procurement process for smaller projects in the $5-million to $10-million range is more transparent, simpler and much faster. “We’re calling it ‘right-sizing’ the procurement,” Sims says. “It’s promoting made-in-B.C. innovation, but it’s also to promote our smaller businesses so they can get beyond that [financial] survival stage and help them grow.”

Fast-tracking software solutions

One example is the new “Sprint With Us” program, designed as part of the province’s BC Developers’ Exchange, in collaboration with about 50 BC tech firms. BCDevExchange is an open network of developers, application builders, startups and public-sector innovators working collaboratively on software challenges. Sprint With Us offers a fixed price to teams that can deliver software products to government in a specified time period.

When a B.C. ministry recently identified the need for a software solution, government issued a call for proposals on BCDevExchange. “The call was open to the biggest companies to the tiniest of companies,” Sims notes. “It was all done online. They didn’t have to spend six or nine months putting together a package.”

Within 17 days, government had short-listed four companies out of 58 applicants, and had interviewed all those on the short list. “Seventeen days from the day we put the call out, the procurement was done,” Sims says.

The first contract under Sprint With Us was awarded in July to FreshWorks Studio, a two-year-old software applications development company headquartered Victoria, with an office in Vancouver. “Sprint With Us is a progressive and innovative approach to procurement, as it creates a level playing field for companies of all sizes,” said Sam Mod, CEO of FreshWorks Studio. The program allows “small companies like us – who are short on resources or time required for traditional procurements – to still be competitive and actually win the contract.”

New ‘matchmaking’ service and residency program

Another innovation is the government’s new procurement concierge service. Whenever ministries identify an issue or the need for a solution, the staffed concierge desk will function like an online ‘matchmaking’ service. “The concierge service’s job will be to match the suppliers and vendors with the needs of each ministry,” Sims says.

“Making it simpler and more straightforward for B.C. companies of all sizes to sell to the provincial government is a good thing for the economy,” said Jill Tipping, president and CEO of the BC Tech Association. “B.C.’s tech companies can bring tremendous value to government through innovation, user-oriented design and speed to market.”

The government’s “Startup in Residence Program,” introduced last fall, enables selected startup companies to receive 16 weeks of ‘residency’ working closely with a government team, to develop technology-based solutions for public-sector challenges within that timeframe. “This brings ideas and expertise of technology companies to help solve our digital challenges in government and improve delivery service,” Sims says. Believed to be the first program of its kind in Canada, it is modelled after a successful program in San Francisco.

For B.C. citizens, the new procurement strategy and programs mean “now the contracts with government are going to be going to local, smaller to medium-sized businesses in the regions they live in,” Sims says. “So this is growing jobs in every corner of the province.”


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