Open Opps Offers Platform and Tools to Analyse Public Procurement Spend Data

We’ve been keeping an eye on the new(ish) platform called Open Opps (as in “opportunities”).  The firm behind it is run by Ian Makgill, who has been involved for some years in making data about public sector spend more accessible to all.

The site collects (or ”scrapes” as the technologists say) data about available public contracts from hundreds of publishers and websites all around the world. That includes public contracting authorities and also multi-national organisations like the World Bank.

We got an update from Ian recently, and the platform appears to be making good progress. He reckons that Open Opps now picks up every tender opportunity that is published in the UK public sector. As we said here, that is a far more complete record of opportunities than the “official” central government Contracts Finder site.  A cost saving opportunity for Cabinet Office maybe (i.e. scrap Contracts Finder)?  Or perhaps even better, use the Open Opps data to populate Contracts Finder more fully?

The problem with CF is that no-one actually checks whether contracting authorities outside central government are placing contracts onto the platform. Crown Commercial Service or Gareth Rhys Williams’ Cabinet Office teams don’t have the resource or inclination to do that, so many organisations just don’t bother.  Others according to Makgill “have struggled to get their data into Contracts Finder”. The proactive approach of Open Opps is clearly getting better results.

Anyway, the big recent development is the launch of a full Open Opps spend analysis tool. That enables users to analyse who is spending what and where, plus pipelines of future tenders, across no less than 130 million lines of data!

Open Opps has also carried out some analysis on their own behalf and to inform useful articles published on the site.  “Four Key Reasons for Interserve’s Troubles” was the most recent and makes interesting reading. They also listed no less than 208 public bodies that held some form of contract with failed supplier Carillion!

They have also identified that the number of single tenders appears to be increasing in the UK, which is a worry, and have picked up examples of contracts with unfeasibly short response times – ten days to respond to a £270 million contract opportunity, for example. Perhaps Cabinet Office should be using Open Opps to pick up on some of these issues to identify where some intervention might be appropriate if organisations are not following anything like good practice?

Coming back to Carillion, Makgill points out that two years ago he suggested central government should know more about where suppliers were working in the wider public sector, and “everybody looked at me like I was mad”. Following Carillion’s collapse, and concerns about other major public sector suppliers, that looks like a very sensible proposal from him. We’ve got no personal axe to grind here, no financial interest or similar, but it seems a matter of common sense that the Government Commercial  Organisation in particular should be engaging with Open Opps and exploring areas of mutual interest.

Looking beyond the UK, Open Opps now picks up data from central government sources in over 90 different countries, and is increasingly looking at local sources too in countries including France and Italy. So the vision of this being a truly global resource is getting a little closer month by month.

But perhaps the best news for the operation is that significant customers are now signing up for the premium services (there is still a lot of data available free of charge).  The House of Commons Library has a subscription for its researchers to use the database, and there are major IT firms, consultancies and others who are using it both to look for opportunities themselves, but also to carry out competitive analysis and market research. Private equity firms and auditors are also interested in using the data to analyse markets and specific firms.

So if you are a public organisation or a supplier to the public sector, and you haven’t taken a look yet, follow the link here, and we will continue to monitor progress with interest.

First Voice

  1. Dan:

    Just a small comment about the short tender timescales.

    One of the new* requirements under the 2015 version of the Procurement Regs is that all the tender documentation has to be published at the time of publishing the OJEU notice, even if you have a PQQ stage first. This means that all companies have at least a draft of the ITT with the evaluation criteria, and the specification. In these circumstances, you can often shorten the tender timescales without inconveniencing the bidders too much (although you should still use your common sense – I wouldn’t be doing this for a £270m contract if I could avoid it!)

    *not really new. It was in the previous iteration of the Regs but no-one seemed to notice it or care.

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