More on Elcom and Scottish Procurement success

It’s a couple of weeks since we featured  Elcom and the Scottish government e-Procurement platform. Since then, to get some further insight,  we’ve spoken to Owen Inglis-Humphrey, who is  the eProcurement & Systems Director, National Procurement for NHS National Services Scotland. He’s been heavily involved in the programme since he joined in 2006, after previously working in the  private sector.

It was a very enjoyable discussion – he is clearly someone who understands procurement technology at a detailed level, but also has a very clear view on procurement strategy, operations and delivery. That’s quite a rare combination in my experience.

It’s very evident that the technology in Scotland has been used as an enabler, and a bit of a Trojan Horse even to build the culture of collaboration; going way back to 2000, a single hub or platform was seen as a way of driving collaboration.

Owen joined in 2006, around the time of the McClelland review of public procurement in Scotland. The concept which has been developed since then revolves around “centres of expertise” in the Scottish public sector. Some are sector specific  - “buy once for health”,  as Owen puts it, has been a mantra. Then there may be local contracts that cut across different sectors – taxis might be a good example.

The single platform has helped to manage and communicate that. “If there’s a contract that we only want Shetland to see, we can set that up on the system. We can communicate changes and new deals very quickly to a wide range of users”.

I asked him whether there a fear initially amongst buyers that the technology would make their roles redundant?

“No, it actually seemed to cement the need for a local team. It’s taken away some of the routine transaction processing, but procurement in many organisations only had visibility of perhaps 20% of total spend. Now it’s more like 50%, routed through the single tool, which gives procurement a lot more to address”.

And procurement is now more focused on the 12-24 month contractual position, as Owen puts it – category management, real contract and supplier management. “Organisations used to have a room full of buyers – now they have a procurement function”!

Of the 14 Territorial Health Boards in Scotland, 12 have adopted the tool. It’s only 3 out of 7 of the National Boards (like the Ambulance Service) but Owen expects they’ll all be participating by next year. Not everything will go through the system however- Pharma is well controlled with its own management solutions, so that will remain separate.  But there are 19,000 active users of the platform in health – “we don’t train everybody, but it is widely devolved, so for instance each hospital ward will have a couple of trained users for ordering of routine items”.

“The user friendliness has been key to acceptance - aspects of the system like 3 clicks to registration are very impressive even by the standards of any P2P tools, public or private sector” he says.  And it’s not just low value items going through the system either – average transaction value is around £1000.

It’s also interesting to see how this has been achieved without a large central team – work has been “virtualized”, one of the few examples I’ve seen of this really working. So activities such as catalogue management are spread around the network.

Stay tuned for the third and final part of this series, when we’ll look at where Scotland want to go next, and whether there are lessons that can be learnt by other countries or indeed large organisations.

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