From the edge of Europe

For the past three years, I have had the privilege to take part and work with the Commission Stakeholder Expert Group on eProcurement. The purpose of this group is to facilitate the take up of electronic public procurement in the EU Member States and to give feedback to the European Commission on issues the countries encounter. Also, the group meetings have offered a great platform to learn from others.

Not only for drinking coffee

This group has not met only to drink coffee twice or three times a year. The Multi-Stakeholder Expert Group on eProcurement has been particularly productive also between the meeting. We have published several papers on various aspects of procurement that have been of interest either to the Commission or the Member States. The papers have been published on the Commission Public Procurement website. The active participation of the group has been a surprise also to the Commission that seems to be used for more sedate meetings and tardiness of the working groups.

Opening and reusing data

The topics discussed and worked on have ranged from purely legal issues that stem from the wording of the Directive to very practical questions of features of the tools used for eTendering. Even though the focus of the group is the whole eProcurement process, ranging from planning to invoicing and payment, we have up to now mainly dealt with questions related to everything that happens before signing a contract or an agreement.

Gradually, we are moving towards looking at electronic procurement as an end-to-end process. For example, the group published lately a short paper on contract registers which invite the Member States to review the procurement process from start to finish and to publish relevant parts of tendering and invoicing information as open data. The group encourages also to create services to the public around open data on public procurement.

Of course, European Single Procurement Document, or ESPD, and everything around it has been a hot topic for over a year now.

ESPD has led to a discussion of another buzz word: OOP or Once Only Principle.

OOP means that data that has been gathered already once should be reused. If, for example, the companies need to submit their financial information to an authority the same data should be reused for public procurement purposes. This would work also in reverse: the procurement data could be used for other purposes: for detecting tax evasion and possible collusive practices in the market.

My small contribution

When the group started its work I felt that as a small country at the edge of Europe we had a lot to get. But as the work has commenced I have learned that in addition to getting ideas we can also give those to others. Many of issues that have come up in HANDI project are similar in other countries, too. Problems in getting the word across, making the change happen and learning from others’ ideas touch all the Member States.

Public procurement in many countries does not get the attention it has got in Finland though HANDI project. We already have the beginnings of a Contract Register (tutkihankintoja.fi) and we are reusing the information already gathered during the tender evaluation process. But we still have work to do – at least in beating the best marketers in EU.

Some countries tend to make a loud noise on their latest innovations – but when one scratches the surface the story is not always as its been told.

My small contribution to the working group has been .. to be frank … asking stupid questions like “what is the problem we are trying to solve with this?” and “is this really an issue in any country?” Once there was a discussion on forcing bidders to use electronic signatures in all EU countries. I had to ask if any country had problems with falsified bids. None had. During the latest meeting of the group, I got a poke and a silent thanks: “We abolished the electronic signature from the bidders. Now it works fine.”

About the author:

Timo Rantanen is an experienced procurement professional developing policy and governance models for Goverment administrations both in Finland and internationally (via OECD Sigma and EU).  He is heavily involved in the digitalisation of public procurement.

Twitter: TimoRantanen10

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