The Tech2Gov Innovation Exchange, launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis, allows users to search by area of specialization (such as personal protective equipment), name, location or services to find companies that solve specific problems. The portal aims to speed up tech procurement and overcome current challenges that may inhibit tech companies from applying for government contracts.
“The government of Canada has billions of dollars earmarked for technology,” said Angela Mondou, CEO of Technation (formerly ITAC – the Information Technology Association of Canada). “To allow Canadian tech innovators, or to enable tech innovators and small and medium enterprises access to those kinds of opportunities to grow their business is huge.”
Modernizing procurement has been an ongoing challenge for the federal government. COVID-19 is providing an unprecedented impetus to move quickly to address longstanding problems as international supply chains struggle to meet an immediate global demand for ventilators and healthcare equipment.
Normally, government officials post requests for proposals through the government’s buy and sell website, which Canadian companies search through for potential opportunities. For small- and medium-sized businesses, the application process can be cumbersome and costly.
“They [small businesses] don’t have bid teams or proposal teams. They don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to apply to those,” said Mondou.
The system is also time-consuming for bureaucrats who have to sift through potentially thousands of applications, she adds.
The federal government is now seeking help from any companies that can quickly re-tool their businesses to fight the current pandemic. Canadian companies have answered the call, with many — from 3D printing to artificial intelligence — shifting operations to meet this new demand.
The shift to challenge-based procurement
Under the old process, government officials called for specific solutions to specific problems. That is now shifting, said Mondou, with procurement becoming more broad and challenge-based, allowing more companies from different backgrounds to respond.
“Procurement is a powerful tool for any sector,” said Mondou. “It’s all about buying in. If you can buy as a government from companies in your country, you’re helping your country’s health and your country’s economy.”
The current list of companies on the site includes homegrown tech names like Element AI and MindBridge, as well as multinationals like IBM and Microsoft. While not headquartered in Canada, Mondou said these large corporations are key contributors to the Canadian tech ecosystem.
“They’re the experts in being able to provide cloud-based, highly secure solutions for governments,” said Mondou. “The Googles, the Microsofts, the HPs, all of these large companies have different kinds of infrastructure that really support large and small enterprises.”
Portals like the one launched by Technation are “excellent” for highlighting Canadian technology, said Suzanne Grant, CEO of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance.
However, there’s also the ongoing cultural challenge of getting the Canadian government to buy from Canadian companies.
“Let’s take a look at the business and culture of innovation, and what it is going to take for us to have that pride in Canadian tech as a nation,” adds Grant.
The hope among innovators is that the new normal of expedited government processes will continue after COVID-19, and that attitudes towards quickly adopting technology will quickly change with it.