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Information Technology Strategy Team

Better tech through micro-procurement: part two

2020-12-18 - Written by Rachel Muston, in collaboration with the IT Strategy team, and procurement experts at ESDC

This is part two of a two-part series looking at micro-procurement for digital work. In this second post, we look at what can make implementing micro-procurement challenging, as well as a sneak peek at what we are planning at ESDC.

What’s stopping the GC from doing micro-procurement of digital work

The web of procurement rules is real. Procurement officers with extensive training help us navigate that web. They help ensure that things are done by the book and no-one loses their financial signing authority or worse, gets fired. Like all policy, though, procurement policy is open to interpretation and because of this, appetite for risk (by that procurement officer, procurement team, CFO or Deputy Head) can be a factor in implementing any procurement innovation. It can be seen as less risky to do things the way they have always been done. Related, a “fear of audit” was noted in the Internal Red Tape Reduction report as a driver of “the need to document every step of the process, which, in turn, drives the heavy paperwork, all in paper format.” But as the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman pointed out in their most recent annual report, simplifying and streamlining procurement in the GC “may require a higher degree of risk tolerance.”

There is another challenge related to procurement policy. We know that flexibility exists within GC procurement policy to establish a simplified process for Low Dollar Value (LDV) procurements. However, this flexibility exists because policy doesn’t explicitly say it cannot be done. As a result, there is very little guidance on how to do micro-procurement within the policy documents or at the departmental level. The Office of the Procurement Ombudsman noted this in their 2019 Low Dollar Value Report stating that “The audit found that despite adopting the Government of Canada’s contracting policies, TBS’s internal process was not supported by a sufficiently articulated policy framework specific to LDV contracting ‘particularly for non-expert contracting authorities.’”

Departmental procurement rules can also create barriers to establishing micro-procurement initiatives in the GC. Unlike policy, departmental procurement rules can vary widely from department to department. This is especially true of rules around credit card use. Policy doesn’t dictate things like credit card limits and individual transaction limits, but departmental rules do. When looking into establishing a micro-procurement initiative in the GC, a good first step would be to learn your department’s rules around credit card use.

On the IT side, in order for micro-procurement of digital work (specifically source code) to be possible, we need to break our work out into small blocks of reusable code. This creates a challenge because in IT in the Government of Canada, we aren’t used to working like that. We have been grouping coding tasks together into large software delivery projects for many years. ESDC’s draft Target Solution Delivery Model suggests that “In order to better deliver services to Canadians, we need to improve IT’s responsiveness, otherwise the feedback loop between policy makers and Canadians will be too long, affecting ESDC’s ability to iterate on its policy making and become an agile organization.” As we move towards an agile/DevOps way of working, with same day deployments, the need for smaller work packages (and being able to procure these smaller work packages) increases.

Lastly, and certainly not least, any systems change requires breaking down silos and working together towards that change. Setting up a process and system for micro-procurement of digital work, by necessity, involves peers from both the CIO and the CFO branches of a department. Working together across branches in the GC can be hard. We need to learn to speak each other’s languages, and we need to be flexible.

Our plans at ESDC

Understanding these challenges has helped us move forward with a Micro-Acquisition Pilot. We are extremely lucky at ESDC to have an amazing procurement innovation team who we (IT Strategy) are working with in partnership on the pilot. Together we are developing a streamlined micro-procurement process and are building guardrails to enable teams to complete micro-procurements (within the scope of the pilot) without procurement officer intervention. We’ll be working in the open and sharing updates as the pilot moves along.

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