Canadian Consulting Engineer

By Nerys Parry   

Not Your Momma’s MERX

Engineering

Suspended lights shaded in blue shine down on a stack of carved wooden coasters in the centre of the MERX Inc. conference table.

Suspended lights shaded in blue shine down on a stack of carved wooden coasters in the centre of the MERX Inc. conference table.

“They’re from Malawi,” says Paul Saunders, president of Merx, looking at the coasters. He explains that people from Malawi had come to Canada to learn about electronic tendering and came to Merx, “because we’re considered a leader in that area.”

Governments and organizations from all over the world have come to check out how this Ottawa company of 50 employees has modernized the old-fashioned world of bid and tender. “It’s been a great success — absolutely,” Saunders says.

Mediagrif Interactive Technologies of Montreal, took over Merx in December 2002 from the Bank of Montreal. The Merx service had been in existence since 1997. In 2002, Merx was limited to contracts for the Canadian federal government and was considered by many in the construction industry as a needlessly expensive service. Mediagrif took over Merx with a promise to reduce fees and provide better access for small and medium-sized Canadian businesses.

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Now, five years later, Merx serves 40,000 clients across the country, with an average of 500 new subscribers coming online every month. It’s the busiest electronic tendering portal in the country, and the “only one that is truly national in scope,” according to Saunders. Last year alone, around 18,000 opportunities for construction and engineering services were posted on Merx, and, at the time of writing, there were over 3,000 Canadian construction/engineering opportunities and 5,000 U. S. projects active on the system.

No Sir, This certainly ain’t your momma’s Merx.

Much of the popularity growth of Merx can be attributed to the portal’s expanded coverage. As a national tendering service, Merx posts all federal tenders over certain values and most provincial contracts. (Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia currently have their own e-tendering services.) Merx also posts many municipal contracts — as many as 1,273 municipalities have made postings. To this public tendering mix, Merx has added Canadian private construction contracts and tenders, as well as its most recent addition, in June 2006, of federal and state public tenders from the U. S.

Another reason for Merx’s success is price. Basic access and download opportunities for Government of Canada projects have been free since April 2005. Subscriptions, where users can view all Canadian public (including provincial and municipal) contracts and tenders across the country, can be had for under $17 per month. Additional fees apply to private and international tenders and services.

There are also more bells and whistles. Users can view critical bidding documents free on-line before ordering them, which is a distinct advantage if the user finds out within the first paragraph of the Request for Proposal that they don’t qualify. And there are many other features that not all users are currently taking advantage of, but which Arthur Skuja, Merx’s vice-president and general manager, believes could be useful.

Take multiple opportunity matching profiles. “The consultant can store a profile consisting of key words, categories, and combinations thereof,” Skuja explains, “and automatically receive a notification when any new opportunity matching those criteria comes up.”

Subscribers who apply for the private-sector construction news package receive regular updates on upcoming projects. In partnership with McGraw-Hill Construction, Merx reports on any signs, such as a request for a zoning change, which indicate that a project is in the works, anywhere across the country.

“The advantage,” Saunders says, “is you’ll get news at the very early stages.”

While Merx is undoubtedly a great place to troll for information on potential clients, it’s also a great way to check out the competition.

“For a consulting engineer, there’s a tremendous amount of valuable information available,” Saunders says. “They can do their research into a certain area that they want to do business in. They may want to find out information about what some of their competitors are doing and the market they compete in, or would like to compete in.”

For any federal government contract, a subscriber can find out not only who won the bid, but also what it went for. They can also check out the Document Request List to see who’s bidding for what. This handy feature not only lets you keep your eye out for competitors, but also helps you find new partners. If you specialize in one part of a contract, but are unable to bid for the full proposal, you can search for which companies have requested bid documents and call any that you feel could make use of your expertise.

Other added features include the Virtual Plansroom capability, which allows viewers to see drawing specifications on-line before purchasing. Merx also now manages electronic bid submissions, and while this technology is taking some time to catch on, Skuja predicts, “It’s going to become as commonplace over the next 10 years as electronic tendering.”

For some accounts the company has introduced qualified bidding, where an organization can issue invitations to pre-qualify their suppliers on the public site, and then issue the tender only to successful bidders on another site, which is also run by Merx, but restricted to those bidders previously pre-qualified by the buyer. 1

With all the growth at home and the interest abroad, what’s next?

“We’re growing at a very good rate right now,” Saunders says. “Our goal is to continue and increasingly become a valuable resource and tool for medium and small business in Canada.”

Nerys Parry is a freelance writer based in Ottawa.

1 Canada’s federal government departments have their own pre-qualification systems. Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGCS) and Defence Construction Canada (DCC) often use SELECT, a database of prequalified suppliers, when tendering contracts under specified MERX values. See www.contractscanada.gc.ca/en/buying-e.htm#10 For more information on MERX, see www.merx.com.

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Last year alone, around 18,000 opportunities for construction and engineering services were posted on Merx.

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