Our last word (for now) on Scottish Government e-Procurement

In the last part of our series about the Procurement Scotland initiative, and the role of Elcom who provide the underpinning e-Procurement software (PECOS), we'll mention some of the other providers involved in this success story; we'll look at some of the “where next” issues for Scotland; and we'll suggest reasons why the country seems to be succeeding much better than England in driving collaboration generally, and specifically in the Health system.

In terms of other providers who make up the Scottish procurement technology eco-system, the PECOS system is now being run as a managed service by Amor, Scotland’s largest independent business technology company, who won that contract last year. There is also a common advertising database / portal (Public Contracts Scotland - PCS), run by Millstream, and BravoSolution is increasingly the standard sourcing / tendering platform - “we should have a single instance of Bravo shortly across Scotland to be branded as PCS-Tenders” as Owen Inglis-Humphrey (eProcurement & Systems Director for NHS Procurement in Scotland) explained.

The other key move is to improve and deepen the content and catalogue management available to users, and a contract has been awarded to European Dynamics for that element. The programme has also rolled out the Spikes Cavell “Observatory” product to provide spend analytics. The overall aim, as Owen puts it, is to have the technology in place that allows the Scottish public sector to answer the question, “what do we buy across the board, who is buying it, from whom, and at what price?”

That sounds pretty basic, but the idea of being able to answer that for the whole public sector across a country is remarkable. “We can then make comparisons – between different organisations of course, but even across different wards in the same hospital. We can look in detail at their usage, are there any unexplained variations and so on”, as Owen says. It is all about turning data into actionable information, that eventually leads to real knowledge and wisdom. And technology is the key enabler to making that journey.

So, why is Scotland doing better than England in terms of cross-sector collaboration certainly? (But we should note there is also good work in the public sector in Wales, which we have touched on before).

The simplest explanation is the size – you can manage stakeholders more easily when you have a population of 5 million as opposed to 50 million. A better comparison might be with the English regions, where we've seen some good collaborative work, although nothing as deep as in Scotland.

A more subtle reason, certainly in the Health system, is that Scotland has not made the same steps towards hospital independence and competition in the way we’ve seen in England. There are no self-governing “Foundation Trusts” in Scotland, and no competition with hospitals bidding against each other – while that doesn't happen often in England, with GP Commissioning on the horizon, I know from experience that Trusts are increasingly seeing other local hospitals as potential competitors. That does not favour positive collaborative action.

Now there may of course be other advantages arising from the English health strategy; but driving closer working in procurement terms is not a likely outcome as far as we can see.

So, well done Scotland, and let's hope England can learn from your success – as long as you'll still talk to us when you're independent!

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