Bidding for provincial government tech contracts just got easier

Victoria’s high-tech FreshWorks Studio nailed down a $1.5-million contract with the province of B.C. in just 17 days, thanks to a new system aimed at helping firms do business with the government.

FreshWorks’ job is to improve technological systems supporting regulatory oversight for B.C.’s mining sector. The contract is also helping propel growth at Sam Mod’s company and create new jobs.

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By year’s end, the FreshWorks chief executive officer anticipates having close to 60 employees, up from three in 2016.

The bulk of his staff works at 100-736 Broughton St., and the company has opened offices in Vancouver and Seattle.

FreshWorks is among 58 technology companies that have registered with the B.C.’s Sprint With Us procurement process for contracts of $2 million or less. It’s the first to win a contract under that system.

Sprint With Us is aimed at companies able to provide software products within a specific time period.

This program “makes it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to do work with government,” Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims said at FreshWorks’ Victoria office on Wednesday.

B.C.’s procurement system, which enables the province to buy goods and services, was “very complex,” she said. During consultations around B.C., the government heard from companies that it was expensive to bid and took too long.

She tried the B.C. Bid system herself and said: “It was a nightmare.”

So the province is replacing the B.C. Bid system with something that is “far more agile,” Sims said.

She said tech sector representatives told the province: “Procurement takes so long [that] by the time procurement is over, the needs of the ministry and the marketplace have changed dramatically.”

The Sprint With Us program does not apply to larger and more costly projects, however. In the past, all projects had to go through the same process, Sims said.

“When you ‘right-size’ and you look at the different factors, you can start to very much personalize those procurements — and that is exactly what we did.”

Smaller businesses will no longer have to spend huge amounts of money to bid for a $1.5-million contract, Sims said. During the consultations, she heard that it could cost $500,000 to compete for a $1-million contract.

Between the time the request was issued and the approval granted to FreshWorks, only 17 days had passed, Sims said. The approval included an interview and testing of the firm’s technology knowledge. Everything was done digitally.

In the past, that process could have taken close to a year-and-a-half, Sims said.

“We now have a procurement system where small and medium-sized businesses, and large businesses, play on an even playing field. No one was excluded from submitting a proposal,” Sims said.

The proposal that best met the criteria was selected, she said.

Said Mod: “The fact that we were able to win the contract makes us believe even more in ourselves and in our abilities.”

The contract means FreshWorks can hire senior experienced staff and train more junior workers straight out of university, he said.

Mod, 30, came to Canada from India to earn a masters in business administration at UVic. He said he was able to customize his assignments at school into company development. He graduated from UVic in 2015.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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