Fight fire with fire. Or, in this case, Bonfire.

With the conflagration called COVID-19 spreading quickly throughout much of the world, Bonfire, a Waterloo Region-based software company, has stepped into the fray with help.

Bonfire specializes in assisting governments and public-sector agencies make faster, better procurement decisions. Those same governments and public agencies are in the midst of a rapid mobilization and acquisition of resources and supplies – particularly for hospitals – to cope with the fallout from mass infection and a looming health-care crunch.

To help them, Bonfire has decided to make its Bonfire Strategic Sourcing tool free until July 4. The tool connects agencies with suppliers and digitizes the procurement process, one that in many cases is done laboriously through in-person meetings and paper. With much of the civil service and government now working from home, those processes no longer work.

“To the extent that this can help people and procurement teams – government procurement teams, specifically – we thought, why wouldn't we just offer this for free?” explained Corry Flatt, Bonfire’s CEO and co-founder.

“We’re looking at it as our public service – to allow anyone who wants to move these processes online to just kind of do it as fast as possible.”

The offer, rolled out earlier this week, has already attracted half a dozen agencies who are gearing up to run Bonfire’s platform “in the next week or so,” and Flatt says a further “20 to 25 are in the funnel.

“If, at the end of this period, zero people become our clients and all that we got out of it was helping billions of dollars of government spending be done really, really well during the crisis? Like, we're gonna feel great about that,” Flatt said. “It's just kind of a win-win-win in my opinion.”

Bonfire has 100 employees, most of whom work out of the company’s Kitchener office. The firm was acquired in September of 2018 by a U.S.-based holding company, merging with five other government-focused software-as-a-service companies.

Flatt said he believes Bonfire’s product can be particularly useful in a crisis like the one now unfolding. Waterloo Region hospitals, he said, are already making use of Bonfire's platform.

“Perhaps in a crisis you realize you don't really have as large of a vendor network as you thought you did,” he explained, “so when you all of a sudden need some esoteric piece of medical equipment, you don't know who those vendors are because you don't typically procure that equipment. Bonfire [has a] network of suppliers. And by using a tool like Bonfire, you can actually reach a much broader type of supplier. And that can be crucial in a crisis.”

Flatt said he has heard of three recent examples of procurement teams “scrambling to find laptops for their staff” in the wake of last week’s work-from-home shift, and have used Bonfire to find suppliers and run evaluations in conjunction with their IT departments and then award contracts.

Another client, Rockland County, located in New York State and near one of the world's worst hot-spots for the COVID-19 virus, is using Bonfire to find decontamination suits and a wide range of medical supplies. Any supplier is free to bid on its tender.

“[Governments] are still stewards of public money,” said Flatt. “They're trying to make the best decision that they can, quickly. They want to buy great products from great companies and get good value for it. But it's just that the time pressure [in a crisis] is immense, and the need to make the right choice is really, really much more pointed.”

“We're doing this for 350-plus public agencies already. I think we're probably up to US$50-billion or so in annualized spend that goes through our system in the North American public sector.

“So there's no risk for agencies choosing us to do this, especially with no cost and no long-term commitment.

“We want to help.”

Interested agencies can contact Bonfire through this portal.