Irregularities in the awarding of a computer contract in Montreal

Due to irregularities in the call for tenders process, the Office of Inspector General of Montreal (OIG) recommends that the City of Montreal terminate as soon as possible a major IT contract that led it to adopt Google products offered by a third-party provider to create “the office of tomorrow” in cloud computing.

Posted at 3:26 p.m.

Vincent Larouche

Vincent Larouche
The Press

The contract was awarded to the firm Onix Networking Canada in 2018. The Canadian subsidiary of the American group Onix was to implement and manage Google’s G-Suite applications on behalf of the City. It was about a cloud-based email service, an office collaboration tool and an office suite.

Montreal was to pay Onix $16 million for four years, but the contract included three renewal options for two years each, which could have brought the total cost to $35 million. In a press release, the City then spoke of a “technological leap” that would create “the office of tomorrow” and replace outdated software.

No embezzlement, but major irregularities

In a report filed with the city council on Monday, the OIG points out, however, that after investigation, irregularities were detected in the tendering process. The investigation revealed neither favoritism nor embezzlement, but the problems are serious all the same, according to the general inspector, Brigitte Bishop.

First, the call for tenders provided that the cost associated with the renewal options could not be increased beyond the percentage increase in the consumer price index in Canada. However, Onix specified in its offer that Google could not guarantee price stability for its products after the four years of the initial contract.

The OIG sees this as a “major irregularity” which should have led to the rejection of this proposal.

Moreover, the call for tenders specified that the City wanted a tool that would block access to an email account after a certain predetermined number of unsuccessful attempts. Onix reportedly replied that Google products offer alternative security measures against intrusions, based on artificial intelligence and two-factor authentication.

For the BIG, the fact that the product offered by Onix did not meet this criterion of the call for tenders also constitutes “a major irregularity which should have led to the rejection of its tender”. Even if the proposed alternative could be considered very efficient.

Not the same rigor for all

Finally, the call for tenders clearly specified that the tool sought had to be compatible with Safari, Explorer, Chrome and Firefox browsers. However, Onix explained in its submission that even if the tools it offered were compatible with these browsers, certain functions could only be used through Google’s Chrome browser.

However, another bidder had its proposal rejected because its product was not fully compatible with all browsers.

“The investigation reveals that the evaluation was rigorous for another bidder’s solution, but that the same rigor was not applied to the solution proposed by Onix,” the OIG report noted.

The Inspector General asserts that the irregularities observed could have justified the immediate termination of the contract. However, since the software in question is essential to the functioning of the municipal administration, she concedes that a quick termination “would not serve the public interest”.

She therefore recommends that council “terminate the contract as soon as possible” and adopt an action plan to find a suite of computer tools quickly without harming services to citizens.

The Plante administration promises to act

Mayor Valérie Plante’s main press secretary, Catherine Cadotte, says the administration is concerned about the OIG’s findings and that an analysis is already underway to correct the situation.

“At all times, our administration aims to set an example in all processes,” she said.

“We will not compromise on the integrity of the contracting process and all necessary actions will be taken to regularize the situation,” she added.

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