The president of MTS unsuccessfully pleaded with city hall this morning to retender a contract his firm didn’t win.
Kelvin Shepherd said he was surprised MTS didn’t even make the short-list in the tendering process for a $6 million contract to provide city hall with alternative telephone service using the Internet – known as Voice Over Internet Protocol, VoIP – that staff recommended be given to a small Richmond Hill, Ont. firm, FlexITy Solutions.
Shepherd tried to scare members of the executive policy committee, questioning FlexITy’s ability to ensure secure data storage and to have technically qualified staff to service the contract.
Shepherd acknowledged city staff were recommending MTS for three other phone and cellular-related contracts — worth a total of $10.6 million — but added he felt obligated to warn city hall it was making a serious mistake in awarding the five-year VoIP contract to a small out-of-province firm.
"As a long-standing, trusted adviser to the city, MTS feels we have an obligation to support you in key decisions that potentially impact the integrity of the city’s telecommunications infrastructure and ongoing operations," Shepherd told EPC. "We believe it’s not in the City of Winnipeg’s best interests to proceed with the current voice recommendation; in doing so could compromise the delivery of secure and seamless telephone service the city is seeking."
The city said the four contracts would result in a combined savings of $1.5 million over five years.
City staff said all of the concerns about FlexITY raised by MTS were initially shared by the city and addressed through the negotiating process with the Ontario firm.
No one from FlexITY Solutions spoke on its behalf at the meeting, but the Prairie regional director of Cisco Systems endorsed the Richmond Hill firm, explaining that the firm partners with Cisco, using its technology and expertise to fufill its contracts.
Shane Warnez said FlexITY is able to provide a more secure voice system than the city has now for its landline service, adding conversations on city phones can be easily intercepted now but that won’t happen with the encryption protocols employed by FlexITY.
Warnez said FlexITY will be hiring staff in Manitoba to service the contract, adding that the FlexITY security feature is the same used by the RCMP and Department of National Defence.
"It’s good to have lots of competition that drives more and more innovative services to Winnipeggers and Manitobans," Warnez said.
MTS’s concerns were echoed by a union leader who represents 1,200 supervisors, managers and white collar professionals.
Dee Gillis, from Local 161 of Telecommunications Employees Association of Manitoba, said the FlexITy contract will take work away from local residents and negatively impact the local economy.
"We the employees of MTS ….feel we were really not given an opportunity to present our proposed solutions during the tendering process," Gillis said.
Coun. Justin Swandel said he didn’t want to discriminate on a contract based on the firm’s location, adding such a position could harm Winnipeg firms looking for work across the country.
"This (contract) is great value for the citizens of Winnipeg," Swandel (St. Norbert) said. "It’s nice to see us bring in new technologies."
Only Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) voted against the contracts.