Growth Markets: Ottawa's shopping list

Written by Tony Martin
p>Chances are that whatever you sell, the federal government buys it. And buys it in bulk. Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), Ottawa’s largest purchasing organization, alone signs 60,000 contracts a year worth $10 billion. Here are some hot buying areas and how to target them:

Aging government buildings are creating opportunities for property and facilities-management firms, says Mike Appleton, Ottawa-based managing director of DAMA Consulting Services, a project-management consultancy. For example, the RCMP is consolidating multiple Ottawa-area facilities onto the former campus of a large high-tech firm. “They’re taking a private-sector complex and renovating it to public-sector standards for an organization that has high-level security requirements,” says Appleton. “That’s a significant contract.”

The civil service is also aging. Fully 25% of federal employees and 50% of executives will be eligible to retire by 2012. Coupled with weak succession planning, this means a growing demand for HR consultants, says Patti Magee, principal consultant of Ottawa-based Government Procurement Consultants Ltd.

IT spending remains on the front burner, says Shereen Benzvy Miller, director general of the federal Office of Small and Medium Enterprises, which helps SMEs sell to Ottawa. (One useful resource is its downloadable Your Guide to Doing Business With the Government of Canada.) “The government is very engaged in ensuring IT is as modern as can be to service clients and stakeholders,” says Benzvy Miller. And there’s lots of work for consultants expert in applications such as PeopleSoft for HR and SAP for enterprise resource planning, says Magee: “They’re always looking for people in those areas.”

Other key areas in which Ottawa is willing to pay for private-sector help, says Appleton, include project management, performance measurement, policy development, strategic planning and implementation, and crisis and emergency planning.

Ottawa is trying to make it easier for SMEs to sell to it, and PWGSC awarded $5.5 billion in contracts to them in fiscal 2009 — up by 15% in just a year. Yet, says Bernard Courtois, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada, there’s a counterpush toward bigger contracts going to bigger players with bigger resources: “Government is under pressure to save taxpayer dollars, and sometimes it’s felt that consolidation gets better value.”

In many instances, Ottawa has made procurement requirements more stringent and the necessary proposal documentation far more exhaustive. “It requires SMEs to be almost as expert at the procurement process as they are about their own product or service,” says Appleton. Still, even if your firm isn’t keen to master this process or lacks the scale to function as a prime contractor, you might be able to land some business as part of a consortium or as a subcontractor to a bigger firm.

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