The Paucity of suppliers bidding on City of Ottawa contracts is a symptom of a much larger problem

It would be difficult for me to actually provide a number relative to how many times I have referenced the problems associated with what I refer to as an eroding supply based.

Over the past few years, and more recently within the pages of this blog or on the virtual airwaves of the PI Window on Business Show, I have talked about the challenges organizations in both the public and private sectors are facing in terms of the increasing level of supplier cynicism as it relates to the RFP process.

From misaligned vendor rationalization strategies (Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble take a bow), to overly aggressive low-cost country sourcing initiatives (how is GM doing these days?), to the reports I received from a former director with the Government of Canada’s SME office who talked about the need for the government to view suppliers as being as much a client to the public sector as the public sector is to them, Ottawa’s acknowledgment regarding the paucity of responses should surprise no one. In fact, what should be considered surprising is why the true breadth of the problem is not discussed with greater frequency and in wider circles! Especially with the economy going south last year.

As we discovered during my extensive coverage of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s legislative (JLARC) review of their eVA procurement program, many suppliers are starting to turn to the public sector once again as a possible venue through which to generate much needed revenue. So increased awareness of the problems that led to the migration of suppliers from participating in the government tendering process would seem both prudent and timely.

In this regard, and taking into account all the articles that I have written on this subject, a post that I wrote on December 13th, 2007 continues to be one of the most widely read. Titled “The Bands of Public Sector Supplier Engagement,” it provides an interesting look at the supplier hierarchy within the realms of public sector procurement practice, and the fact that like erosion itself the problems that are now coming to light have been a long time in the making. I have of course provided you with easy access to the “Bands” post to review at your leisure through the title link above.

In the meantime, and compliments of Marion Soubliere author of “Getting Work with the Federal Government: A Guide to Figuring Out the Procurement Puzzle,” here are the highlights from last week’s City of Ottawa/Government of Canada/MERX procurement workshop:

According to the presentation at this workshop, the City of Ottawa receives on average only five bids per tender—and they want more companies to bid on their tenders.

The City buys almost $800 million worth of goods and services annually, of which $155 million is for professional services. Purchases over $50,000 are advertised on and through the Ottawa Construction Association. Informal quotations for purchases between $10,000 and $50,000 are also advertised via those two avenues, but sometime in December, opportunities to be advertised are also to appear in a new section of the City’s website ( Currently, you can check out the section that deals specifically with bids and tenders at .

You can also phone 613-580-2424 ext. 25185 to get a list of tenders coming down the pipe. I called today and got a list that shows what’s coming up until Dec. 11, 2009.

Last tidbit of interesting info about our city: Every day at 3 p.m., the unofficial results of any formal tender closing are read to the public in the Supply Branch’s tender room. Who knew!

One final observation from Marion was that “the City of Ottawa uses standing offers extensively.” Specifically, Ottawa currently has more than “170 standing offers in place, and Jeff Byrne, the City’s supply branch manager who gave the presentation, said that the City is always open to establishing more standing offers, if a case can be made for it.”

The real question of course is simply this . . . with increased awareness will the needed changes in the current process actually come about? Or will the government once again find itself on the shallow end of the supplier pool when private sector business activity returns to pre-crash form?

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