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Buy and Buy, b’y!

If you frequent Government of Canada websites (c’mon, I know there are some of you out there!), you may have noticed a number of changes over the last few months. To promote transparency and increase efficiency in services provided, a number of websites have been modified to promote easier access to documents and information pertaining to a plethora of public topics. The one most pertinent to me (and this blog) is buyandsell.gc.ca. Headed under Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), buyandsell.gc.ca is the newest way to do business with departments, agencies and Crown Corporations, including the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

If you have worked with MERX® in the past, the first thing you will notice when you head to the new Government Electronic Tendering Site (or GETS) is that there are a number of ways to search for information related to the buying and selling processes of the government. The second thing that you will notice is that you do not need a login or access code to work your way through the site. Success— no more passwords!

Back in the day (circa January 2013), anyone interested in doing big business with the government had to locate RFPs (Requests for Proposals) or RFQs (Requests for Quotes) and other requests on websites that often required logins and subscriptions. The old process was cumbersome and lost much of the spirit of competitive and open procurement. Buyandsell.gc.ca is completely free and open-sourced. The website allows individuals and businesses to search freely and respond to tenders if they choose. As someone who posts tenders on the site, I cannot access who has looked over our documents or who might be interested in the bid. Rather, the process is (for the most part) blind to interested parties and when proposals do come in, I am seeing the interested parties for the first time.

Why does this matter to me? To you?

When it comes to change, well, it can be tough and not always welcome, but in this instance, I believe that government procurement has taken a step towards modernity. Overall, I’m impressed with the website because there is so much information contained within. The access to government documents, applicable regulations and laws, and a Q&A forum is encouraging for online engagement and promotion of best practices. Further, the site is completely bilingual and you are able to quickly access a page in either official language (and back again) without having to navigate the site from the start. I appreciate the tabs at the home screen as further directional aids for first-time users and, as I have experienced a number of times over the last few months, if you do get really, really stuck, there is contact information for people within PWGSC to provide answers directly.

For the general Web wanderer, the site is a good starting point to learn about the government procurement process and to examine documents affecting the expenditure of public funds. It is also an opportunity to see the wild and wonderful business opportunities for buying and selling goods and services.

Today I did a search for the following: “snow,” “museum” and “ice cream.” I received 12, 42 and 217 hits respectively. The possibilities are (seemingly) endless for goods and services to buy and sell to the government!

C’mon Ashley, it can’t all be roses!

It is true that new systems and new ways of doing things often mean that there are instances of glitches, eye-twitching and frustration. There are definitely areas where the site could be improved. What I find most challenging is document updating. Changing or adding to postings may leave the person posting (me) feeling anxious and in a fit for coffee because it is not clear that posts have been accepted or whether they have suddenly been removed entirely. I’m convinced however that my feelings of anxiety and caffeine dependency will subside as I work more and more with the site. Suppliers have shared with me that they are frustrated with the fact that they cannot see a list of interested parties who have downloaded documents. Without this list, reaching out for potential joint ventures is more challenging. They have also shared that they are having difficulty navigating the website. I have found that the easiest way to navigate the site is to bookmark the pages I go to most often. This strategy would work for potential suppliers interested in certain organizations as well. For instance, if you were looking to supply a good or service to the Museum, you could bookmark our tender page which automatically updates when new information is available. If you’re not bookmark savvy, it does take some time getting used to where to locate items—look for hyperlinks (big and small font) or utilize the search engine.

Have you used the new Government Electronic Tendering System? What do you think of the new site?

Ultimately, I think the website and its glitches are being worked out very well. There are constant updates that users can read about, and in areas where there is more concern there are links to contact information for people within Public Works who can help you. Even with time zone differences between Halifax and Ottawa, I am able to speak with people and resolve issues without too much delay.

The Museum will be issuing tenders on this new website as we continue to focus on our national mandate. I encourage you to check out what we are up to, as well as our sister organizations. Until then, buy buy!