A Taste of International Public Procurement Transformation Approaches and Attitudes

More than 500 participants from about 100 different countries gathered at the Global Public Procurement Conference in Washington DC in September. Over two days it offered a forum for discussion and an opportunity for country experts to share their best practices and learnings about how latest trends in technology are helping leverage public procurement as a development tool in their region. We published a three-part review of the conference, written from the perspective of Craig Brewin, a Caribbean-based procurement professional, over on our Public Spend Forum site.

Craig, you may remember, was featured here on Spend Matters last year when he was Head of Commissioning at Slough Council and spoke at eWorld on the challenges of adult social care procurement. He has a distinguished career in both public procurement and financial management, and is now busy as a coach and commentator on finance and procurement issues relating to the Americas and the Caribbean. In this capacity he attended the event in Washington and has written about some of the key themes discussed and added his own considerable experience to the discussion.

In part 1 – The Star Trek Future – he explains his reasons for covering the conference (as best you can when there are over 40 presentations): “Digitalisation is a genuinely transformational disruption, impacting all aspects of procurement activity as well as the profession itself. We do largely know this, but making sense of things together is always the best starting point for any change.” He then goes on to explain how the views he heard on the need for public procurement digital transformation vary according to region and level of ‘maturity.’ He heard one contributor explain that for his country, digitalisation is a threat. But, even so, he concludes from other speeches: “it was clear that the consensus view is that Machine Learning and Block Chain will eventually underpin all procurement systems, and the procurement profession will either have to lead this process or simply respond to a disruption driven by other professional areas.”

In part 2 – Transformers – he looks more at the issues of implementation rather than adoption or acceptance, and paints a picture that it is not as far down the track as the profession would like to think it was. “Throughout the conference countries presented their transformation programme, or e-procurement system, and although excellent in many cases, they never quite reached the sci-fi approach hinted at in the first session.” But this was interesting as a call to action:

“It was clear that despite the vast differences in the way that government and public procurement work in different parts of the world, there is always a tailored solution that can be drawn up and project managed through to implementation. Even in some of the larger decentralised countries with multiple systems (of which India has over 50) it has been possible to develop common identifiers to enable open source systems with shared access to information. If a country as large and complex as India, and as famously bureaucratic, can develop a single approach that can share data, identify unique suppliers, share verified information relating to a company, and utilise block chain, then a roll out of a single source of data for commercial relationships and purchasing on a global basis, seems inevitable.”

In part 3 – The Human Touch – he explains how for some countries it is imperative that procurement strategy be integrated with broader social objectives, and how many ‘manual’ processes and actions prevail in a region by choice. “One of the future roles for procurement professionals set out by Professor Larry Giunipero in the opening session of the conference was to link strategic sourcing to the overall values and objectives of an organisation, supplemented by, not replaced by, technology,” and that being key – putting technology firmly in its place.

The series forms a rich overview of differing approaches and attitudes towards the path of procurement (transformation), and emphasises our need to understand and take all of them into consideration rather than marching rapidly to the ‘digital’ tune.

“… when you see the initiatives taken in each country you can see that there is a strong policy agenda behind them that has shaped the preferred solution. Each country is facing its own challenges, whether it is a developmental agenda, an efficiency agenda, or the need to restore public trust in the public procurement function,” he explains.

A very worthwhile read if you want a broader overview of the status of global digital public procurement. The conference was also recorded, and you choose to see and listen to any one you like the sound of by following the links in Craig’s articles.

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