On 27th May, the 2nd European e-Public Procurement Conference was held in Lisbon at the Instituto Superior Técnico. The programme delivered various presentations on e-procurement in the public sector and perspectives were represented from 21 countries around Europe and from the European Commission to discuss the use of technology in public procurement and the challenges of the new EU Directives.
Discussions ran wider and deeper than the province of technology, covering good practices of public contracting; advances and challenges for e-tendering platforms; assessing major impacts of e-public procurement – transparency and public savings; how SMEs can increase their participation in public markets, among others. Of course, ‘technology as a central pillar of procurement’ was never far from mind, hence the significance of our managing editor’s speech, ‘Technology for Public Procurement – the next ten years.’ Peter discussed how technology will revolutionize procurement in areas such as spend analytics – and we will have more on this to come.
But what became apparent from the gathering of so many intellectuals and experts, other than the thought-provoking discussions raised by the host of presentations, were the wider observations that were not part of the speeches. For example, it became quite obvious that southern Europe is home to some great thinkers in the field of European procurement. To name but two: Professor Luis Valadares Tavares from the Instituto Superior Técnico, who, as a major figure in the world of academia and the EU Commission, made for a very knowledgeable host; Professor Gustavo Piga, Professor of Economics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, who raised the controversial question of whether there is a link between e-procurement, centralisation, economic growth and corruption. You can read more about his speech here.
We noticed that the UK government was rather under represented, although we did have one member of the Crown Commercial Service; maybe that’s something that will be addressed for the third ECPP. We also had the presence of Dr Pedro Telles, of Bangor University’s acclaimed procurement faculty which has done a lot of work with the Welsh government.
What became very evident from the discussions around the Directives, was that public sector e-procurement uptake will happen in varying degrees around Europe. It will be some time before a pan-European e-procurement practice will be seen. Some countries are advanced users already, like Portugal, other eastern European countries that are relatively new to the concept will have longer-term uptake plans. But the enthusiasm is no less diminished.
There was an underlying current of diversity in views on Directives by country. With some seeing their versatility in terms of adapting them to a country’s legal system as ‘enabling’ while, conversely, others saw the same flexibility as a draw back to uniformity. This isn’t surprising given the span of ‘maturity’ levels of e-procurement throughout Europe. What is abundantly clear, however, is that public bodies, especially those in the less mature markets, will need clear guidance on the right technology to implement once public sector e-invoicing becomes a universal requirement. This is definitely a space that solution providers should be watching closely.