On my recent trip to the European Public e-Procurement Conference in Lisbon, I took the opportunity to call in on Vortal, the leading technology firm in the Portuguese public sector technology market. It's privately owned, but with approaching 200 employees, we’re probably talking comfortably over €10 million annual turnover now.
The first thing you should know about the firm is the location. Its office is as close to the massive José Alvalade stadium (see picture), home to Sporting Lisbon, as you can get without paying for a ticket or conning your way in as reserve corner-flag handler. My recent visit included a quick lunch in what on match days is the dining room for the executive box inhabitants, but is more often a cafeteria for the workers in the stadium and the very adjacent offices.
That's not the only interesting element about the firm, however. It has a range of products and services that is unusual, maybe even unique - in Europe certainly. The core of its offering is a suite with a wide range of sourcing-related capabilities, oriented very strongly towards the public (government) sector. Its base is obviously the Portuguese state sector, but winning major open competitions in countries such as Colombia and the Czech Republic shows that when someone is looking for a strong and proven set of public sector products, they're potentially in the running almost anywhere in the world.
As well as supporting the standard EU type process, its tool set has a range of additional features. It has the capability to support collaborative buying processes, and will cope with different sourcing processes such as auctions or dynamic purchasing system approaches. It also enables the buyer to carry out tender evaluation within the system, with built-in marking options, for instance.
So far, so relatively standard - although even these attributes distinguish Vortal from probably half the providers who sell an eSourcing solution that isn't really much more than glorified email and document management! But Vortal has another angle , because the platform also creates and utilises supplier networks. Now most eSourcing platforms (certainly in the public sector) don't retain data about suppliers from any particular sourcing exercise. You start again next time. But every supplier who participates in a Vortal competition becomes a member of its network.
The closest parallel is Ariba really, but Ariba doesn't have the specifically public sector focused offering, hence the use of the 'unique' word. The network also comes into play when buyers use the platform for sub-OJEU (smaller) procurement competitions, a particular strength for Vortal – that’s an interesting topic in its own right, so more on that to follow another day.
That takes us onto another differentiator. Vortal also provides services to suppliers in its network, using the data it collects via its platform to support information and education services to firms within that network and indeed others. Very smart, and again not something we see often.
It's also a firm that has a genuine interest in promoting public sector good practice. You might write this off as a marketing tool if you’re a cynic, but it's one of the founders of EUPLAT, and has worked closely with academia, including Professor Tavares who hosted the recent conference on research in the sector. EUPLAT is a group of software firms “Representing the industry of commercial platform providers for e-tendering, engaging in the public policy debate and recommending best practice within appropriate EU forums”.
The UK is probably not Vortal’s key priority, given the relative maturity of the public sector e-sourcing market here compared to certain other countries. But it's a good firm to at least have on your radar if you’re interested in high-functionality options within that sector, and we expect it to continue to grow outside its Iberian base.