On April 20th of this year, the European Commission published its strategy on electronic procurement (or eProcurement). The strategy builds on the proposals for the new public procurement directives, published in December 2011, containing provisions regarding the use of electronic communications by public sector organizations when buying supplies and services or tendering public works. These provisions, should the proposals be adopted, will require contracting authorities to perform all procurement procedures using electronic means of communication no later than two years after the transposition deadline, except under duly justified circumstances.
The reasons for a transition towards full electronic procurement are pretty obvious. eProcurement will significantly simplify the way public procurement is conducted, reduce waste and deliver better outcomes by stimulating greater competition across the Single Market. According to the “economic case for eProcurement” presented by the Commission in the strategy for eProcurement, the efficiency gains are huge; a conservative back-of-envelope calculation suggests that a full transition to eProcurement could generate between €50 and €75 billion a year!
This leads to the question: Why are we not using the full potential of eProcurement? According to the strategy, two main factors contribute to the slow uptake. The first being that certain stakeholders are not persuaded enough to make a shift towards eProcurement. The second being the existence of a wide variety of systems which are not interoperable. It is my opinion that convincing stakeholders to change to eProcurement should not be that difficult, considering the fact that the advantages are clear.
The big problem however is interoperability. Under the current EU procurement directives, contracting authorities are obliged to publish notices on the TED-website. As a result, we see that the current eProcurement systems in place (in the Netherlands) do allow for the automatic sending and receiving of these notices to and from the TED-website. Uploading tender documents and submitting tenders, however, was and still is not possible on the TED-website. As a result, we see that TED-notices can be published in one system and viewed in another, but that the essential tender documents cannot be viewed or submitted using different systems. Suppliers therefore need to gain access to these different systems in order to obtain the tender documents and submit their tenders.
In order to obtain tender documents and submit tenders using a preferred eProcurement system, interoperability between all systems will need to be achieved. Although interoperability solutions have been proposed by PEPPOL, the market has been slow to pick up on these solutions. The Commission’s proposals therefore will allow the Commission to adopt delegated acts in a number of specific areas to render mandatory the use of specific mandatory standards. Next to this, the Commission is currently assessing the framework for electronic identification, authentication and signatures to enhance trust and security and to ensure ease of use and interoperability of the systems across the EU.
It should be noted however that the Commission is not in a position at the moment to render mandatory the use of specific (interoperability) standards, as a result of which interoperability between eProcurement systems is still something to dream about. We are therefore not using the full potential of eProcurement, because we simply do not have the required systems in place.