• Has Priority Saskatchewan Failed?

    November 2, 2017


    Has Priority Saskatchewan Failed?

    A few weeks back, a prominent leader in our industry asked me that question. To be honest, I was quite surprised. From my way of thinking, Priority Saskatchewan has been one of the signature successes of the SCA and our partners over the last few years. It was created by the government to respond to industry concerns about Saskatchewan contractors being left behind. Mandated to improve government procurement practices, Priority Saskatchewan was tasked with building a grand collaboration between government and industry to execute complicated cultural change across multiple different ministries and crowns.
    At the heart of the Priority Saskatchewan mission I recognize three key principles:

    1. Best Value procurement – this recognizes that awarding contracts to the lowest bidder is not always the best way to get value. The goal is to do the work necessary in advance of award to figure out what best value to taxpayers means in the context of each project; and
    2. Harmonization – moving to best value from low price means creating a world in which more flexibility, subjectivity, and judgement enter into contract awards. This necessitates a move towards harmonized documents, procedures, processes, and interpretations. If everyone is doing everything differently, the procurement environment actually gets worse, not better; and
    3. Supplier Development – when the world of procurement changes, we need to train the procurement agents, but we also need to train the suppliers. Vendors must know how to operate in the new world because when they don’t, chaos ensues.
    I would say that Priority Saskatchewan has been successful at launching the first principle. Across government there are now efforts underway to procure goods and services using the best value model. While imperfect, the progress made on this principle is considerable and seems to be moving in a positive direction.
    Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the second principle – Harmonization. Harmonization of procurement has been a necessity outlined by the SCA and our partners in the industry for years now. This is not new. Government ministries and crowns cannot move to a best value procurement model unless they do so in a consistent and harmonized fashion. Two examples stand out:

    1. Too many procurement documents go out stating that best value will be applied but not providing details on how elements will be scored and considered. When this happens, vendors are bidding blindly. This wastes time and effort and drives up cost. This must change; and
    2. Some groups have done away with public tender openings, others have moved to a hybrid approach, and still others haven’t changed at all. Vendors must know what to expect and there must be transparency. We have to find the ‘best practice’ approach and it must be implemented government-wide…no exceptions.
    I am extremely alarmed by what I perceive as the harmonization principle falling off the rails in government today. Too many different agencies doing things in too many different ways. It is creating confusion for the vendors and it is undermining the credibility of Priority Saskatchewan in the process. It is time that this change.
    I believe this change begins with a clear and unequivocal commitment from government to the principle of procurement harmonization. Then it requires a direct mandate to Priority Saskatchewan to set the rules by which procurement shall be done. No longer should the Priority Saskatchewan ideas be couched in the language of recommendations. They must have the authority of edicts. Every organization must fall into line, and now.
    If Priority Saskatchewan, and the government, can get the harmonization principle back on track, then the third principle of Supplier Development can also roll-out effectively. We can work together to get our member companies up to speed with the processes, procedures, documents, etc. used by government. Until harmonization is in effect, supplier development has little value to offer to companies trying to sort through the government procurement maze. A starting place for this principle must be the reasonable expectation that when a vendor procures something from one ministry or another crown they can expect the way they are treated, and the process they endure, to be largely if not perfectly similar.
    So, has Priority Saskatchewan failed? No, I don’t think it has. In many ways it has been a great success. Today, I view that success as at risk. If government does not re-commit itself to procurement harmonization, then I fear that all our progress to date may have been for naught.
    Here at the SCA we will keep working with partners and our allies in Priority Saskatchewan and across government to push for improvements in this area. I have great hope that we will achieve continued success.

    Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

    President and CEO
    Saskatchewan Construction Association