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Regional RFP for e-agendas yields no bids

Lack of interest only the latest hiccup in region's attempts to go digital with agenda packages

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

It appears the region will have to go back to the drawing board on its plans to make council agendas more accessible.

In the summer, Durham commissioned a request for proposal (RFP) for delivery of an electronic agenda (e-agenda) program.

However, the RFP closed in September with not a single bidder.

The Express reached out to the region to inquire whether staff could identify reasons for the lack of bids, but interview requests were declined.

However, manager of corporate communications Tania Laverty told The Express via e-mail the region is “conducting a review on possible next steps and will be bringing forward a report (to council).”

According to regional documents, six companies showed interest in the RFP, including three from Canada – two based in British Columbia, Avocette Technologies Inc., and iCompass Technologies. Markham’s eSCRIBE Software Ltd. was the only Ontario-based company to show interest.

The road to the situation the region now faces is a long and rocky one.

As reported earlier in The Express, in June 2016, Durham entered into a contract with U.S-based company Accela to develop and maintain the region’s e-agendas.

The five-year agreement came with a one-time cost of $41,000 and maintenance costs totalling just under $200,000 from the second through fifth years of the deal.

Accela was given a deadline to complete the program by Jan. 1, 2017, which would help to ensure the region’s website was fully accessible and compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which requires web pages and other online documents belonging to government entities to include the ability to resize text, audio description for pre-recorded video content and captioning for live video.

However, according to a January 2017 staff report, as the months went on, it became apparent the company would not meet the deadline due to an inability to make the program work within provincial guidelines.

“Throughout the project, the project team clearly communicated concerns regarding this issue to Accela without seeing a successful resolution,” the report states.

Ultimately, the region terminated its agreement with Accela in January with no compensation paid to the company.

When the contract was approved, some councillors questioned whether Accela, an American company, would have difficulties as they claimed it did not have as much experience with legal requirements in Canada.

Matt Gaskell, then the commissioner of corporate services for the region, acknowledged those concerns were proven to be true shortly after the termination of the agreement.

“I think they were proven correct, hindsight is 20/20,” Gaskell said in January. “This is a large e-agenda provider in the United States, but their experience in Canada is more limited, and that proved to be somewhat problematic for us.”

Later in March 2017, the program was put back to tender, with Gaskell telling regional council he felt they had learned from the previous experience.

“We’ve learned from that, recognizing that we’ve lost a year. We’re certainly tightening up the request for proposal requirements significantly, and I believe that includes reference requirements in Ontario,” he said during the March 1 committee of the whole meeting.

However, with no bids, the details on the immediate future of the region’s e-agenda program will likely remain scarce until the expected staff report comes before council.