Talent Development Centre

Changes are Coming to How the Federal Government Hires IT Contractors

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Changes are Coming to How the Federal Government Hires IT ContractorsThe Federal government last reformed procurement around IT Professional Services over 10 years ago, introducing the supply methods Task-Based Informatics Professional Services (TBIPS) in December 2007 and Solutions-Based Informatics Professional Services (SBIPS) the following July ’08. TBIPS has by far been the most-used vehicle across the Federal Government to acquire IT contractors, with the last known spend figures being over $1 billion in 2016-17 and it’s expected to have topped $1.5 billion the following fiscal year.

Although the spend is significant, there has been a long-building uniform dissatisfaction with the evolution of TBIPS among ALL stakeholders — industry/suppliers, client departments and IT contractors. I currently sit as the President of the National Association of Canadian Consulting Businesses (NACCB). Over the last several years, the organization has been very active in working with the Feds in advocating real changes to the way the Government acquires IT contractors.  The overall objective is to create a process that is simpler, quicker, focuses on quality over price and most importantly, results in a better procurement outcome for Canadian taxpayers.

The Federal government has been receptive and have begun in earnest a full TBIPS Review Process, engaging all stakeholders and have assured us they are willing to put “everything on the table” in order to modernize what has become a very cumbersome and often dysfunctional procurement process.

It is our hope the new process focuses on the quality of IT professionals and away from the over-reliance on lowest price as the primary awarding criteria. After all, contractor quality is a function of both supply and cost. The current way in which TBIPS solicitations are conducted tends to have a negative impact on both supply and cost. At a very high level of generalization, when evaluations are based on lowest price or artificial median bid rates, it guarantees a low price. That in turn all but guarantees two things — a low quality resource and frequent consultant turnover.

When someone is looking to have their roof re-shingled, usually the lowest bid is also of the lowest quality, and so the same concepts hold true for professional services. You get what you pay for, and if the goal is to get someone at -20% of the median, which itself is an artificially downward-skewed measurement of “market rate”, then the result is predictable.

As to supply, the evaluation of solicitations typically takes so long that even if candidates that are bid were legitimately available at the time of submission, by the time the solicitation is awarded there is little chance that they are still available. The current process has created an environment, unfortunately, where unethical vendors are fully aware of the long evaluation process and can bid candidates solely to maximize score (they typically do not consider legitimate availability). When the solicitations are awarded, the candidates are not available and a backfill process must be initiated.

There a number of changes the NACCB strongly recommended that will serve to make for a far better procurement. For example, some of the significant and true process changes that will undoubtedly serve all interests much better include establishing a Vendor Performance mechanism to reward quality-based vendors over under-performing vendors focused on the lowest price only. As well, the elimination of paper only based grids (Ottawa is probably the only city in North America that sees 30,50, 80 page! resumes) and the implementation of a Skills Assessment/Interview both to assure resource availability and to truly vet skills as part of the process.

We know today there is a severe skills shortage that is expected to get more challenging in IT for the foreseeable future. The ability for the Federal Government to compete to acquire these resources will be imperative. Having an efficient, clean and quick hiring process will be critical to that competitiveness.

8 thoughts on “Changes are Coming to How the Federal Government Hires IT Contractors

  1. Nice article!

    I hope the Federal government thoughtfully considers increasing remote access as a means of accessing IT Professionals across the country to fulfill its project initiatives and mandates; making it easier for those of us who live remotely from the Federal government mecca in Ottawa to contribute to this all important market place.

    Direct face time with clients is an always an important part of establishing strong business relationships and including the ability to work remotely can lead to benefits for both the IT professionals and the government.

    1. Agreed, the Federal Government has evolved working polices for both their FTE’s and contractors to allow for remote work in Ottawa. The next step should envision that opening beyond the NCR.

  2. It’s great that changes are in the works. Long time coming. Elimination of those ridiculous grids would be a major step forward

  3. Excellent article. As an IT contractor in the Ottawa area I am very happy to hear the Federal Government procurement process is changing and becoming more streamlined. I prefer to stay away from government opportunities because of the enforced process. I will also be very glad to see a reduction in phone calls where companies know I am not available but they still want me to bid, just to fill the space. You describe it well in the article where a company submits a consultant at a low price just to get the contract. As soon as it is awarded I get more calls says “won contract”, when I know it is just a backfill because the current processes aren’t working properly.
    On a positive note, over the past few years I have noticed a decrease in consulting companies gouging consultants with extremely high margins of 40, 50% or more. Individual consultants and consulting companies need to work together to build their businesses. Relationships and trust need to be built to make it a win- win – win for the consultant, the consulting company, and the client.

    1. Agreed, we are looking to get a cleaner, quicker, more efficient process that leads to a better procurement outcome-win, win, win!

  4. My biggest concern is whether the individual departments accept this new procurement strategy wholeheartedly. I’m sure some people in client departments are frustrated with TBIPS but in my perspective they carry a lot of the blame. TBIPS itself began as a way to streamline procurement, with every request following the same template with a simple form for vendors to fill out.

    It was the desire of different departments increasingly adding their own “flavour” to their requests, creating convoluted requirements that don’t reflect their true work environment (sometimes to wire the bid, sometimes a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation), and pushing through their own miniature supply arrangements within TBIPS that led to a transformation of a request involving 1 resource for a 100 day project going from that simple generic form to bloated 50+ page RFP’s asking for every mundane and obvious task the resource performed in the last 20 years to be described in excruciating detail, only to disappear under evaluation for weeks after submittal.

    There needs to be some kind of acceptance of a solution that reasonably fits the needs of all of the federal government, with restrictions of what can be modified within an acceptable limit, or the new procurement process may also become victim to a sort of “feature creep” of it’s own.

  5. Wholeheartedly agree with everything you said, and I’m cautiously optimistic positive change may come from this. Allowing for interviews to allow clients to confirm actual experience and fit will separate the contenders from the pretenders, and save everyone time and money.

  6. The process must be agile, transparent and lean. There is a need to remove complexity from the system. Reducing outdated and restrictive regulations could help to improve the Request to Service delivery time.

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