That’s how it looks to me. As I submitted to the TTC meeting last Thursday, while TTC chair Adam Giambrone talks endlessly about the importance of electronic communications,

  • TTC has still not bothered to start up its own in-house Web department.
  • As such, it throws good money after bad at one company, Devlin, while starving another company.
  • The whole budget could be divided at least in half if the work were taken in-house. But that would require admitting a mistake, something the Commission never does under any circumstances.

For last week’s meeting, TTC released a proposal (PDF) to funnel millions of dollars – without a tender – to Devlin. It turns out Devlin has been lavishly paid for its work already, very much over and above amounts previously disclosed.

TTC has a miniature MFP scandal on its hands, I contend.

How Devlin got crowned king

In 2008, TTC launched a contentious RFP for Web development. 15 companies bid, with totals ranging from $109,000 to $990,000. Only one bid was deemed compliant, that of Devlin, which bid about $432,000 – $57,000 over TTC’s budget.

I read each company’s bid documents. I know one reason other firms were deemed noncompliant was their refusal to quote costs for some of the more ridiculous requirements, like a Web site that talks. There were other disqualifications, but only Devlin met all criteria.

Cost overruns

  • TTC’s report discloses that this $432,000 contract has bloomed to $591,271.60. That already puts Devlin up $159,271.60.

  • A separate maintenance contract is worth $190,929.50. (TTC report: “The total value of the above work is $782,201.10.”)

At this point, TTC has now spent more than twice as much as it originally intended to spend on Web development ($375,000). But we’re not done yet.

  • Devlin was then handed a contract worth $347,092.88, then yet another contract that itself ballooned from $225,000 to $425,000.

  • To here, then, Devlin has been authorized to bill TTC $1,270,201.10. TTC is now spending 3.2 times as much as it originally intended.

  • The report proposed to reward Devlin further with new contracts for $700,000, $400,000, $100,000, and $200,000. When that’s all done, Devlin will have billed TTC over $2.6 million for a project originally budgetted at $375,000.

Meanwhile, another vendor gets squeezed

It is understood that TTC is not entirely satisfied with Devlin but feels under pressure, perhaps by our Internet-minded chair, to get on with things. But Devlin didn’t win every single Web-related contract. A rival company, Tiny Planet, was granted a contract for E-commerce.

This desperately needed function was budgetted for an initial $165,000 (1/15 what Devlin will ultimately bill); there’s another $100,000 for maintenance (also allotted to Tiny Planet) in the project, whose total budget is $800,000. But TTC did to this contract what the provincial government later did to Transit City and postponed it last year.

So Devlin gets bigger while Tiny Planet gets tinier. (Nice work if you can sole-source it.) And we still won’t be able to buy a Metropass online. Better line up to hand $121 cash to the single available collector at Dufferin station. (No pictures!)

Yet we’re still missing needed functions

$2.6 million later, Devlin’s TTC Web site still has no mobile stylesheet at all, meaning the site looks and acts the same on a Blackberry or iPhone as it does on a 30-inch monitor, and has only a barely passable print stylesheet.

The following disclaimer has been shown in the site footer since the day it went live: “Multi-language translations coming soon.”

We all have more substantive complaints about the site. (Everybody’s got a different set of those complaints, itself a bad sign.) It’s hugely improved over the ancient TTC site, but is it good enough for the millions it will have eventually cost?

Sole-sourcing at these levels is almost a scandal

When it comes to justifications for sole-sourcing this much work to Devlin, it would be generous to call the TTC report touchy and evasive. To the experienced observer, this looks like a case of vendor lock-in. Even though the end result in every case is supposed to be standards-compliant and accessible Web design, which any number of vendors outside the country and four or five developers inside Canada can do, this is being treated like some kind of magic development process only Devlin can handle. TTC managers seem ignorant and scared of the Web.

City auditors need to be called in to investigate why this much money is being funnelled to a single vendor without tenders and – before this week – completely in secret.

At these prices, why not hire your own staff?

If the Web site is, as Giambrone repeatedly insists, an essential piece of infrastructure, why doesn’t TTC have its own staff of Web developers to run it?

I know TTC doesn’t build its own buses, trains, and streetcars, but it doesn’t outsource every single aspect of maintenance and creation of those to a single sole-source vendor. TTC has its own departments for buses and for rail transport, among many other departments.

$2.6 million buys a gold-plated Web department that could beat the pants off whatever Devlin is overcharging to do. Except of course for the fact that the culture of the TTC, and its old technology, and its buildings and office environments, are so inimical to professional Web developers that nobody would take the job. (Using the Web, under Windows NT, behind a firewall maintained by paranoiac sysadmins, in an airless, cramped, crumbling, seafoam-green office is no way to build a Web site.)

What I asked for

I asked for all expenditures on Web and Internet development since the awarding of the first contract in 2008 be sent to an auditor. Last week the Commision ignored the whole thing and rubber-stamped this multi-million-dollar untendered contract, of which only Devlin is sole beneficiary.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.05.10 15:29. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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