Special Report: Open Public Data

More Consultant Crap vs. Change By Us

If Council decides that civic engagement in the modern era requires people willing to learn new ways and do things differently, they will get the support of people who can do the work: quickly, cheaply, efficiently and locally.

By James Arlen
Published January 09, 2013

this article has been updated

I'm a pretty engaged Hamiltonian - proud to be one actually, largely because I chose to move here with my family seven years ago. I don't have the built-in anti-Hamilton issues that plague our community.

The creative local reaction to the Our Voice, Our Hamilton fiasco - via Twitter hashtag #TellOHEverything - represents an enormous number of engaged Hamiltonians doing our best to make something positive out of such an incredible train wreck.

Council is probably sick of hearing "but Joey Coleman said...", but in this case, they really need to listen.

I'm not sure who's responsible for the recent bout of procurement activities at City Hall, but with regard to the ones around technology, it's time to take a closer look. In short, we just got taken to the cleaners by a consulting firm. We need to stop being taken to the cleaners like this.

Change By Us

In the next week, a group of citizens will meet and launch a Hamilton version of Change By Us - a program designed by the City of New York in partnership with its citizens.

The program is open source and can be launched at no charge in other cities after the original NYC version. Here's the version in Philly and the version in Phoenix. Chicago and Memphis plan to launch city-supported versions as well in the next few weeks.

Please notice something about NYC and Philly's site - they have strong municipal leadership support.

Professional Web Technology Consultant Services

What Hamilton is doing is simply insane. It's even more insane in light of the other procurement disaster that is about to land on our lap. It would be very wise for Council to have a look at Request for Proposals Notice C2-09-12, "Professional Consultant Services Required for Web Technology Assessment" which is closing on 2013-01-22.

You can find a very limited abstract of this on Biddingo.

By the way, I can see how happy Biddingo is to have our business - they're charging fees to receive documents that could just as simply be made available on the city's website via a free blog package running on a virtual machine. These are fees that the city pays - indirectly via the bid winner charging back - for something that is approximately free. The actual cost of a decent virtual machine with unlimited internet connectivity is ~$100 year, or the cost of three bid downloads from Biddingo.

Problems with RFP Process

Let's start with the obvious:

1) The City wants $31 + fees for a PDF of the procurement request.

2) If I want a copy, I'm welcome to pay $46 in person for a printout of a PDF.

3) Holy crap, I had no idea that the new City Hall wasn't built to handle all of the critical operating components of the government!

4) I'm sure that "available for viewing" means that I can look at it for free, right? Since I'm fairly certain that it was prepared using taxpayer dollars and I'm still a citizen and all.

And then we're going to add onto that all of the ridiculous Biddingo stuff from above, and in a word: WhatTheCrap!

As an aside, I'd strongly encourage Council to look into the details of the Biddingo deal and make sure that it's not going to blow up in their faces the way the Dialogue Partners deal has.

Likely Outcome

On the topic of the actual consultation, I'm fairly certain we can all agree with some simple statements of fact:

1) The existing City website is terrible.

2) Leaving anyone who was responsible for the existing website involved would be a critical error in judgement.

3) The skills necessary to do much better work exist in Hamilton and are one of the city's greatest export commodities. I spend here and live here and telecommute to my job in Seattle - I'm a job creator dammit!

4) The City is going to spend goodness only knows how much money on a consultant who is going to tell us what the staff looking after our IT assets want to hear.

5) We will end up with a similar piece of crap website delivered beyond the budget and in a time frame that will ensure our great-grandchildren have a Hamilton City website to be proud of.

Dismissing the 'Usual Suspects'

I was actually putting together the idea of doing a consortium bid for the work using a number of local folks who are highly qualified and engaged almost entirely in work beyond the borders of Hamilton. And then I realized that we'd be deemed "The Usual Suspects" and tossed out of consideration.

This makes me sad - to think of how easily the city would simply disregard our effort.

If Council takes this opportunity to stand up and say that civic engagement in the modern era requires people who are willing to learn the new ways and perhaps do business differently, they will have the support of people who can do the work: quickly, cheaply, efficiently and locally.


Update: I decided to go ahead and put together a consortium bid, and learned that Biddingo takes $34.60 - more than the $30.66 the city gets. Here's a screenshot of the invoice:

Biddingo RFP bid invoice
Biddingo RFP bid invoice

James Arlen, CISA, is a senior consultant at Leviathan Security Group providing security consulting services to the utility and financial verticals. He has been involved with implementing a practical level of information security in Fortune 500, TSE 100, and major public-sector corporations for 18+ years. James is also a contributing analyst with Securosis and has a recurring column on Liquidmatrix Security Digest. Best described as: "Infosec geek, hacker, social activist, author, speaker, and parent." His areas of interest include organizational change, social engineering, blinky lights and shiny things. http://jamesarlen.net/ Note: his RTH username is "Myrcurial"

37 Comments

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 09:23:27

Bravo!

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By Myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 10:10:15

One of those things that needs to be said... since someone is going to latch onto this and make a mistaken point.

Yes, I'm a consultant.

I'm not that kind of consultant.

I'm the kind of consultant who does the maximum for the client respecting the resources as if they were my own. There are lots of consultants like me and unfortunately, there are a small number of consultants who give a bad name to all of the rest of us.

Joey Coleman has been advocating "no more consultants" and I'm with him - because I know he's talking about the kind of consultant that takes the money and runs.

Doing what I do, seeing myself as a professional, I'm willing to offer pro bono information security consulting for the city to ensure that they've got the right kinds of protections for the information handled by the internet facing assets identified as part of C2-09-12.

Let's get this stuff done right, using citizens who are willing to do work for their city, and turn the mega-buck consulting contracts into sustainable employment for people to do the work ongoing.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 11:09:25

I'm not a fan of this sentiment I'm hearing from city hall that says "we'll be sure this company gets things right and provides the service we want".

Surely, their $400,000 contract has some expectations of service, and surely those expectations have NOT been met with zero research, a WP site and useless attempt at engagement. I'm not interested in 'fixing this situation'. I want this contract canceled.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 12:33:35

I sent the following email to Hamilton City Council this morning.

Members of Council,

In 2013, I believe the City of Hamilton should hire its first ever dedication web communications and development staff.

Respectfully,

Joey Coleman

Citizen

May I suggest sending an email to Council as well.

Comment edited by JoeyColeman on 2013-01-09 12:42:28

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 07:50:46 in reply to Comment 84963

Can you clarify what a "dedication web communications and development staff" is? Or was that a typo sent to all staff that should have read "dedicated web communications and development staff"?

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2013 at 11:02:54 in reply to Comment 85143

It was a typo. (I have dysgraphia)

Thanks

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 13:00:51

Correct me if I'm wrong but all the hype the City created over Canada Bread locating here, I believe they are paying about $400k in property taxes. The City just squandered that extra assessment.

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By Hamilton Civic League (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 13:21:06

We spend approximately $70 million annually on consultants. They are often hired to insulate City Hall decision makers from being held accountable. When things go wrong, the City can blame the consultants. One Councillor is suggesting we cancel the contract. Let's get it right and extend the same level of accountability to the decision makers at City Hall who are likely also responsible for, and yet not held accountable for the state of the City's website. Move them out, not up and not around. #Accountability2014

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 07:52:39 in reply to Comment 84972

When was the last time a forensic audit was performed at city hall, or where a real, line by line budget was scrutinized by a third party to see if there are real cost savings?

I can already see some every night as I drive home from work and pass by city hall - turn off the full overhead light system and leave on only the ones required for security!

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By Ivan_Sorensen (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 06:16:15 in reply to Comment 84972

I could not agree with or endorse this sentiment with more enthusiasm because I would then be in a wheelchair and have to pay full HSR fares.

Comment edited by Ivan_Sorensen on 2013-01-10 06:18:53

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By Johnny Velvet (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 13:56:25

Having bid on City contracts in the past...your application is only reviewed if the bid is on the lower end of price quotes. If you propose a dollar value that is fair, but another firm bids lower than you, you will not be assessed.
Very archiac and damaging way to procure services for such a large community as ours.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 07:53:17 in reply to Comment 84980

Can you confirm that or is that just a 'feeling' you get? When did you last bid and find this?

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By Hamburgled (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 14:38:39

With entrenched municipal corruption coming to light in Laval and Montreal, I think we need to be asking some tough questions about the jaw-dropping figures being dropped on dubious, laughably incompetent consultants. Although Hanlon's razor sugggests that we should "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity," we should at least consider the possibility that there is something darker than mere incompetence involved here.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 14:45:52

I'm sorry James but I have one criticism of your article.

"I was actually putting together the idea of doing a consortium bid for the work using a number of local folks who are highly qualified and engaged almost entirely in work beyond the borders of Hamilton. And then I realized that we'd be deemed "The Usual Suspects" and tossed out of consideration.

This makes me sad - to think of how easily the city would simply disregard our effort."

You never did anything, only thought of it. The City never disregarded any effort because the effort never happened. And then you justify your inaction because you've decided the city would dismiss you anyway. If the City blew you off in reality instead of fantasy I'd understand your malaise.

The rest of the article is great.

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 17:21:22 in reply to Comment 84984

Ok. I can take that criticism.

The malaise comes from the fact that repeated efforts to _give_ the city a better website have been rebuffed.

Do we attempt to follow their process or do we just rebuild the city website and then delta changes as we find them?

I suppose that part of my issue is echoed elsewhere - fixing city hall is going to require changing the composition of city hall.

Since the time has not yet elapsed for the bidding process, should we go ahead and try?

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 16:33:43 in reply to Comment 84995

Mission 1: #HamOnt #UsualSuspect - Readme file for the Consortium RFP Response on Web Tech: 1111-README - https://docs.google.com/document/d/1x7k1...

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 18:18:09 in reply to Comment 84995

the city doesn't need a new website. It's current one is awesome!

Sincerely, 1995

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By Troll Poison (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 07:55:22 in reply to Comment 85000

*ignore*

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By LauraWeb (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 15:16:43

Just a quick note to add to everything posted above . . . as of January 2012 - the Accessibility Act came into effect for Ontario websites (Information & Technology phase of the Act) -- with government (city, municipal, federal, school boards) to comply first -- The City of Hamilton has not complied -- this is NOW LAW, nor does their new website comply.

http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/progra...

I am an expert in accessible web design (for visually and hearing impaired) - trust me - neither site complies . . . they had years of notice to make their current site comply and they have not. The consulting company out of Ottawa should have MADE SURE that the new site complied (not to mention the shoddy job that was done building that site). I could have built that site in compliance within about 3 days flat (not kidding). (Not that I would ever work for the City, because I wouldn't).

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:02:28 in reply to Comment 84987

Would you be interested in lending your voice to a consortium bid on C2-09-12?

I'll have the details tomorrow - will provide them then.

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By LauraWeb (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:22:53 in reply to Comment 85011

Yes I'm interested. I'm in the middle of huge project right now but will make time for you. I have two deadlines to meet (January 15 and February 1) - I can free up some time around my schedule for any "in person" meetings.

Thanks! Laura

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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 15:51:09 in reply to Comment 84987

the Legally enforceable portion of this AODA act will not come into effect until Jan. 1, 2014. So technically, they can get away with it.

Yes, sadly, it ignores a large portion of the community by building it without any attention to accessibility, but as this developer barely seems to be able to build something with remotely decent code, it's no surprise proper semantic & accessible options were completely ignored.

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By Clyde_Cope (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 16:32:24

This may be the right time to shine a very strong light on the bureaucrats at city hall. They are the ones who really drive policy - not the elected officials. To really change the culture at City Hall we certainly need both elected and non-elected officials to have a vision for this great city that blends with the wishes of the electorate.

(corrected lousy spelling)

Comment edited by Clyde_Cope on 2013-01-09 16:35:48

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 18:18:47

is it just me, or is the silence from city hall deafening right now?

The 70's old-boys club, status-quo, visionless, red tape culture is about to get pounded into submission based on what I'm hearing and sensing in the community. I was amazed recently at how the simplest of chats with neighbours while shovelling snow turned into a venting session by everyone towards city hall. And these are people I had no clue had any knowledge or care about the workings of city hall.... it's so broken that it's negatively affecting average every-day citizens. They are tired of an outdated culture negatively affecting their neighbourhood and quality of life.

OurVoice, or whatever it was called seems to have done much more than just bring up some venom towards an inept firm from Ottawa...the anger is now being directed where it belongs.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-01-09 18:22:49

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 07:56:49 in reply to Comment 85001

Didn't you say that last election and nothing changed?

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By AlwaysARedhead (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 18:54:30

I have never tweeted about a subject so much until this fiasco at @ourhamilton Our Voice Our Hamilton. I thank the usual suspects for all their work on keeping us all informed.

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 22:15:31

First, I agree with many of your points, especially that this contract should be reviewed. However, I would challenge your criticism of the City using Biddingo.

I work for an architectural firm that uses Biddingo to find work. While I agree that it looks bad in the context of this bid and the fact that you have to pay for a public document, I think its important to consider the wider picture.

Biddingo gives us a centralized database of open tenders for many Municipalities, City, Universities, Colleges, etc. We pay the $70 odd dollars for a bid package from Biddingo without question because of the time we save not having to search all the individual organization websites.

The service then also helps the organizations advertise their tenders more widely and ensures that all proponents receive all the same addenda which ensures fairness in tendering. it is not a good idea to put tender documents in two places (ie, on biddingo for $$ and on the City website for no charge) since both would have to be updated and therefore introduce the possibility of putting a document on one site and not the other.

Finally, I did a two minute search of organizations that use biddingo to illustrate how common its use is. Here is the list I came up with: City of Burlington, Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, Haldimand County, City of St Catharines, Toronto District School Board, University of Guelph, City of Toronto, University of Toronto.

Comment edited by grahamm on 2013-01-09 22:16:19

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 22:31:16 in reply to Comment 85027

Common use does not imply appropriateness.

I've heard that a former US president said it was a great idea to smoke, lots of other people commonly smoked too.

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 00:07:18 in reply to Comment 85028

Obviously. But that was not my only point.

My other points were that, from my point of view, the services improves competitiveness by decreasing the costs borne by firms and companies looking to bid on City work while also increasing the distribution of the City's tenders.

As I see it, the service that Biddingo provides benefits both the City and the service providers for the reasons above.

I'm as disappointed in the work of these consultants as the next guy. I just think that this one point (the use of Biddingo) needed further information for it to be placed in its appropriate context.

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By Zephyr (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:30:12

I am an IT Service Management & Lean Six Sigma consultant with a PMP (Project Management Certification). I am also the good kind of consultant who saves my clients money. I have worked all over the US in the past. I am currently a permanent employee based quite locally as I need work/life balance right now. I would be very pleased to be part of any consortium bid that you put together, as it would be a pleasure for me to be part of putting something together that would contribute positively to the lives of people in this city. I'd love to speak further about this.

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted January 12, 2013 at 08:01:36

I work inside the Big House. They've needed a new website for years. Honestly, this is going to sound bad, but I think they should just annex the entire IT department. If you call the helpdesk, they will only address one issue. If you have more than one, you have to call back. There is still a microfiche department. That is technology from before I was born. Some departments do scheduling with wall calendars and post it notes.

I wish I was joking, but I am not.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 08:00:10 in reply to Comment 85132

You can say the same for just about anywhere. Our governments, at all levels, do the same. I've worked at City Hall too and can confirm all of what you're saying, other than the IT bit (having never had to call them). But to say it's a problem specific to Hamilton only is not true.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 11:47:50 in reply to Comment 85148

But to say it's a problem specific to Hamilton only is not true.

Who are you arguing with? The GP didn't say that.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 20:52:55 in reply to Comment 85156

Not arguing with anyone, troll. Just pointing out since it implies that only Hamilton would do such things, which isn't the case. Why are you trying to make a problem where none exists?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 20:57:31 in reply to Comment 85164

Why are you trying to make a problem where none exists?

You might ask yourself that since you've set yourself up to automatically find fault in everything you see on this site whether it's there or not.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 05:29:49 in reply to Comment 85165

Uh, no. There's a difference between trolling for trolls sake (you), and clarifying or disagreeing (me).

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By donkeyDan (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2013 at 14:11:29

If you read the many pages of fine print you will realize that this organization should be called Bid Jackal. There is a reason that they have their name. bidding go. to paraphrase what they require when you pay your money (and they are now asking $250 to join up), " " contractors will agree that all materials which are submitted with the bid will become the property of biddingo and they will have WORLDWIDE COPYRIGHT IN PERPETUITY." " Read it yourselves. Any photographs, descriptions of what you do that makes your bid special or unique, or trade secrets, will become their property...forever. They can do whatever they want with it, and if you put it up on your website or use it in another bid, they can come after you for damages! That is bad enough, but in the next paragraph they state " " Biddingo reserves the right to copy, transmit and distribute their information to any third party of their chosing." " So lets say they give it, or sell it (because they are in the money making game) to somebody else. And lets say this third party decides to pretend that it is their work, not yours, and they use it to get a contract, do the work and then the building falls down and kills people and someone comes looking for the guy who did this other stuff in the photos....do we really want to have this kind of lawsuit? The guy suing doesn't care who he goes after. If your photos implicate you in this disaster, even without your knowledge, what will happen? TAke a look and see if you can find a corporate office for biddingo, or people responsible for it. You will come to an official govt of ontario website. So why would they want to help contractors bid on projects? what do they want to know about how you do things, where you do things, how big your previous projects were? Figure it out guys. the company is bidding G.O. just like G.O. transit...government of ontario sponsored. and when you try to argue that you didn't build some other thing that you never declared, you signed away your copyright to all information. Explain that to the man.

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