At the last couple of EU procurement conferences run by the Commission that we’ve attended, the topic of open access to contracts has come up, and one concern has been around how difficult and time-consuming it is for suppliers to keep track of all the contract opportunities that come up around the Community – not just the larger ones posted in the OJEU, but those below threshold or not OJEU’d for other reasons. Indeed, just keeping up with opportunities in a single country is taxing enough.
That idea of open contracting, with potential suppliers from all around the EU being able to access and bid for opportunities, is right at the heart of the EU’s fundamental principles. Yet in practice, it does not work very well.
But the recent launch of a new platform called Open Opps (as in “opportunities”) is the best attempt we have seen so far to address this issue. The firm behind it is run by Ian Makgill, who has been involved for some years in making data about public sector spend more accessible to all. It is still a small business, but their goals are admirable; to make contract opportunities more visible and open to all. Makgill himself is undoubtedly one of those people who has a genuine public service mission, rather than simply a desire to make money, and we’ve always admired his work.
The screenshot of the platform “home page” is shown above, and it collects (or ”scrapes” as the technologists say) data from some 300 publishers and websites all around the world. That includes public contracting authorities and also multi-national organisations like the World Bank. The focus at the moment is largely on the UK, with the US growing too. In time, Makgill wants to pick up more from all European countries, and he has already made a start on this. So at the moment, the site contains 73,766 live opportunities from 154 countries around the world. There are 1.3 million tenders in the database.
Access is free, with subscribers getting a daily email to notify them of relevant opportunities. In time, Makgill is looking to bring in paid services, mainly focused on the UK initially, this might include advance notice of contracts expiring, and broader information including spending data.
It is interesting to look at the UK, where central government has set up Contracts Finder, which is supposed to contain tender opportunities from all round the public sector. But comparing the Open Opps data – number of contracts for instance – with Contracts Finder (CF), it is clear that not all contracting authorities are providing data to the “official “ site. “We think Contract Finder is missing around 60% of contract notifications”, says Makgill.
That raises and interesting question actually; if Open Opps can work well by pulling data from lots of local sites, both collaborative and single entities, then in time might Contracts Finder be unnecessary? As long as contracting authorities published somewhere publicly, that data could be picked up and made easily available by an Open Opps type site. Based on first impressions, we would also say that Open Opps is more user-friendly than CF too.
The issue of language is interesting. Makgill believes that if you are interested in winning contracts in Finland, it is probably essential to have someone on board who speaks Finnish – seems reasonable. So he is not looking to translate material, but you can set up a search in the local language, which does of course assume you have some of that language knowledge.
We very much hope this initiative succeeds; the idea of a global portal that can help everyone who is interested in bidding for public sector contracts in any part of the world is an attractive vision. Clearly, there are issues to be resolved (and more investment needed probably) to make this truly global and ubiquitous; but the team has made a very good start.