Big Data in Public Procurement: Strategic Enabler or Leaker of Inconvenient Truths?

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The term big data is not new in the lexicon of business jargon. After years of hearing how big data analytics will transform the enterprise by producing brilliant insights from reams of unstructured information, procurement observers are understandably skeptical about the promises big data’s marketers have made.

It was no surprise to us, then, that for one of the first questions we received in our new series Ask Spend Matters, an anonymous asker hoped to find some evidence behind big data’s claims:

Is there any evidence that U.K. central government commercial departments are using big data to transform commercial activities?”

This is a great question, but one the Spend Matters editorial team was not immediately sure how to approach. So we decided to enlist the aid of our colleagues at Spend Matters UK/Europe, who are experts in both public procurement and taming dubious exuberance about new technologies.

Chief Research Officer and Managing Director Peter Smith told us he could very easily respond to this question. The answer is, “No!”

As he explains in an article over on our U.K. site, Smith “cannot say with certainty that there are no big data initiatives going on in U.K. central government procurement — but we have not heard or seen evidence of anything relevant.”

Sure, Crown Commercial Services has detailed plans for a more technologically advanced future with its “Crown Marketplace,” but the initiative does not constitute a big data project, Smith says.

What’s more interesting, however, is that while big data could theoretically be used by the government to improve procurement performance, most public procurement departments may actually avoid it, because collecting or analyzing such data could reveal inconvenient truths, Smith says:

A good example — the recent report from Open Opps we featured here on Public Spend Forum identified that Contracts Finder (the central U.K. government website) is clearly not being used by public bodies to advertise contract opportunities as extensively as it should be. The government could easily have done the same analysis — but maybe it doesn’t want to, because it would then have to publish the embarrassing results and take some actions.

As far as the extended Spend Matters team knows, there is no widely known evidence that U.K. central government commercial departments are using big data to transform commercial activities. If any of our readers have learned of big data initiatives in U.K. public sector procurement, please let us know in the comments! And if you have any more questions about procurement, big data, emerging tech trends and the like, be sure to continue submitting your questions to Ask Spend Matters using the box below.

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  1. Mark Lainchbury:

    Re:”If any of our readers have learned of big data initiatives in U.K. public sector procurement.”

    The NHS now gathers every single PO line ( 64million & counting ), raised across all of the acute Trusts in England, into the PPIB benchmarking system, for use & review by NHS procurement staff.

    Some big data macro analysis is probably waiting till a few iterations have passed

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