Government procurements − openness and automation

Are you interested in how the government’s funds are used? Have you heard of the (Finnish for “Explore spending”) website? For the digitalisation of the government’s procurements, the service and the automated review of official data represent the first signs of the coming change for the entire governmental procurement process during the next two years.

“… the data […] is not especially surprising”

The service was launched in September and provides information on the government’s procurements on a weekly basis in an easy-to-understand format. The government’s purchase invoice data is also published as open data on the (Finnish for “Open data”) website.

Before the service and its data were opened, the only way to acquire this information was to send separate information requests to every agency that possessed the information that was needed. This caused additional work for both the requester and the agency that received the request.

For 2017, the service already contains the information of various procurements that include almost 19,000 different vendors and total 2.6 billion euros. Many news sources have written their own and crowd-sourced articles that are based on this procurement information. These articles focused on e.g. how procurements are distributed to different companies as well as the business significance of government purchases (Kauppalehti 26 September).

Helsingin Sanomat (14 September) noted laconically in an article on government procurement that “…the data that has been published on the website is not especially surprising”. In my opinion, this means that the government’s organisations have focused their procurements on only what is necessary for their activities and that the procurement process is functioning well overall. Now the public knows what the government has already known before.

Most work and time spent on agreeing on common operational practices

The most demanding part of the implementation work of the service did not focus on the technical side of things, which utilised as many service-based cloud technologies as possible. Instead, most effort and time was spent on agreeing on common operational practices for all governmental procurement units. It was this process that enabled the previously-public official information to be opened and published automatically in a form that is fit for mass consumption.

The arduousness of the process for opening up and publishing the information is a sign that the government’s information management and procurement process are not currently being implemented in the spirit of digital principles as a head-to-head process entity. Luckily, we have been able to identify the solutions that will help make this information management process more fluent. For procurements, many of these solutions can be implemented without any regulatory reforms.

The automated review of official information saves time, increases trust − and productivity

The next creation of Handi represents a nearly-textbook example of the usefulness and practical usability of digital principles. Beginning in November, the electronic tendering solution that is utilised by the agencies and units of the government will implement the automated review of all necessary official information.

This necessary information includes for example Trade Register information, information on tax liabilities and the proper payment of social security payments, debt recovery data, information on Customs-related payments, bankruptcy and reorganisation information, the people involved with the business and their connections, financial statements and balance sheet information, as well as pension, unemployment and accident insurance information. In other words, the information that is needed for the tendering process from a host of different governmental information sources.

In practice, the tendering solution retrieves the required information from the Tax Administration’s service, where the information has been collated beforehand from the registers of other authorities. This way, the procurement unit does not need to seek out this information from several different sources. In addition, companies do not need to submit different official certificates that are related to the tendering process to the procurement units, since the information has been automatically retrieved and reviewed from a reliable source. This automated process will make previously necessary work needless and unnecessary.

The first results of the Handi programme will create great expectations for the later results of the programme.

Text by Tero Meltti

Owner of the implementation programme for the digitalisation of government procurements, specialist, Ministry of Finance @tmeltti @HandiOhjelma