The cost to replace the BC Bid system has risen by more than 80 per cent from the original budget, British Columbia’s Minister of Citizens’ Services Lisa Beare acknowledged this week, and the project is far behind schedule.
A recently signed two-year extension to the contract with CGI Information Systems and Management Consultants Inc. will add $7.4 million to the $8.9 million the province has already spent, Beare said in response to
“We now have a total value of the contract, with the three-year plus the two-year extension, of $16.3 million,” Beare said. The original three-year contract ended in December.
Beare also confirmed that, as The Tyee has previously reported, the government has scaled back its expectations for the new BC Bid system and that when it launches it will be without some functions it was originally expected to include.
And while when the project was announced it was to be completed in 2019, Beare said it is now on track to be functional in early June.
“No one is happy when we experience time delays,” Beare said. “This was a huge, 25-year-old legacy system that was at end of life. That kind of work takes time, and it was important that we take the time to get it right.”
Each year public bodies including provincial ministries, Crown corporations, health authorities and municipalities make some 9,000 purchases through the BC Bid system for goods and services worth about $7 billion.
“This is not small potatoes,” Banman said. “It is used by all ministries, the broader public sectors. It's utilized by Crown corporations, municipalities, health authorities, school districts, and there are tens of thousands of vendors.... It's important that the system works.”
As far back as 2010 government officials believed the existing BC Bid system needed to be replaced. In 2017 the government announced the replacement project, saying at the time that it was a first step towards overhauling the provincial government’s approach to procurement.
Large Canadian tech firm CGI won the $8.9-million contract to manage the project and began working with California company Ivalua Inc., using its off-the-shelf “procure-to-pay” application and customizing it for the province’s needs.
Headquartered in Montreal, CGI is a publicly traded company worth nearly $24 billion and had some $12 billion in revenue last year.
The government has extended the deadline for the project at least three times. As recently as last April Beare gave assurances the new BC Bid site was on budget and would be live by the end of 2021.
The Tyee reported in February that records released in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act revealed budget pressures, scaled-back expectations and a strained relationship between the government and CGI.
In the legislature BC Liberals accused Beare of hiding over three years how badly the project had gone. Abbotsford West MLA Michael de Jong asked, “Why was this minister pretending the project was on time and on budget when it wasn’t even remotely true?”
In budget debate this week Beare gave more detailed answers about the project than she has in past years.
“We expect the first full procurement to be enabled on the new BC Bid in early June,” Beare said after outlining the steps being made ahead of that. “While all this work that we're doing to onboard the new system is happening, we do have the existing system making sure that the good work of government continues.”
Citing The Tyee’s reporting, Banman asked about the scaled back expectations for the project.
“The expectations that were set in 2017 could not be the same expectations that we would need today in 2021-2022, as the contract has been worked on and worked out,” Beare said. “To assume that all the scope and functionality that were conceived earlier than 2017 and were talked about, it's hard to imagine that.”
Changes to the contract included “removing items that were beyond the capability of the system” and adding some requirements, such as those made necessary by the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union, she said. “Our contractor has worked closely with the province to address those shifts and deliver a product that meets our needs.”
When the new BC Bid system launches it will include “high-priority functions” and work will continue to add to it after it is live, she said.
Asked if she’s satisfied with CGI’s performance, Beare said, “In terms of where we are today, I'm happy with the work we are doing today with BC Bid.”
She also responded to a question from Banman about reporting in The Tyee about a consultant’s report for the government that found CGI had underperformed, saying, “historically there have been some concerns, so we've done some work to address those concerns.”
As the debate wrapped up, Beare repeated that she was unhappy with the delays, but satisfied with the project’s current state.
“I'm happy with where we are now in being able to deliver a product that's actually going to meet the needs of British Columbians and meet the needs of our buyers and our vendors,” she said. “I think that's the right place to be.”
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