ECPP Conference – Public Sector eProcurement highlights

Last week I made a very short (but perfectly formed of course) presentation to the 2nd European e-Public Procurement Conference in Lisbon. It was held at the Instituto Superior Técnico, a pretigious Engineering and Business School, but as you can see from the picture, not perhaps the most outstanding architecture in the City ...! OK, this was a rear view.

Anyway, the discussion went beyond pure technology, of course -  you can't talk sensibly about public sector eProcurement at the moment without getting into the new EU Directives, for instance. More on my presentation to come, and some of the other sessions, but here are some general observations about the conference, and the state of public sector technology more widely.

  • There are academics in southern Europe in the procurement field who appear to carry more weight and prestige than any in the UK (post Cox, Lamming, Macbeth days). Prof. Luis Valadares Tavares from the host university in Lisbon is a major figure in the academic and EU Commission world, as well as a charming host of the event.  Prof. Gustavo Piga from Rome was another impressive academic, with deep procurement experience (he previously chaired the Italian government central procurement organisation) and views that were insightful and challenging.
  • There didn't appear to be anyone there with UK government connections, which seemed a shame. The closest was probably Dr Pedro Telles (from Lisbon originally) who now is at Bangor University in Wales, at their highly rated procurement faculty within the Law School. Bangor has done a lot of work with the Welsh government and other public bodies, but it's a shame no-one from the UK Crown Commercial Service was there.
  • The presentations on the new EU directives, including speakers from the Commission itself, were more interesting than you might imagine! Some of the points that, to be honest, I had seen as fairly minor could actually have major implications. Post event, I am more sympathetic to Sally Collier’s (Crown Commercial Service) view that there are significant changes and opportunities for public procurers.
  • One such speaker described much of the content of the new directives as “enabling” - they give national governments considerable freedoms in terms of how the rules are transposed into national law. But, one speaker said, the risk is that the end result is a “patchwork” of laws, with different countries going in quite different directions, and maybe losing some of what the Commission is trying to achieve.
  • It's clear that the adoption of eProcurement around European public sector varies hugely. Some countries have very centralised approaches – like Portugal itself, the first EU country to mandate eProcurement back in 2009. Others, like the UK, have a complex eco-system but a reasonable use of technology. Germany is pretty chaotic (because of the federal nature of the country), Scandinavia is generally pretty advanced, and some of the newer eastern European countries have very limited uptake.
  • The mandate for organisations to introduce eProcurement and e-invoicing will therefore have different effects in different countries given where they’re starting from. But it is clear that some public bodies – right up to central government decision makers – will need clear guidance through what will look to them like a confusing range of options in terms of choosing and implementing the required technology.

And more to come on the conference in the near future.

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