20 April 2000 | David Arminas
The government's central procurement agency has commissioned a review of its e-commerce strategy amid signs that its target to use e-procurement for 90 per cent of routine purchases by next April may not be met.
Peter Gershon, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), told delegates at the Public Sector Procurement conference in London this month that the OGC is launching a "short, externally led review" to see if its current approach is the most effective.
Asked by SM whether the target was slipping away, Gershon, who started in his position this month, said it was "too early to comment".
The review will be an endorsement and lend authority to the government's e-procurement processes, said Jane Gibbs, the OGC's head of e-commerce. "We are on course to meet the target," she said. But measuring the extent of e-procurement now would create a league table of departments - something that the OGC wished to avoid, added Gibbs.
Some departmental purchasing staff have privately questioned whether the target, described as "aspirational" in Whitehall circles, will be achieved. Others believe the clock is ticking fast.
"It will be exceedingly tight, but the target can still be reached," said Gareth Jones, head of procurement at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR).
Stephen Sage, chief executive of The Buying Agency, which is now part of the OGC, told the conference it was difficult at this stage to predict when e-procurement will take off. "It may go quite slowly for a while and then suddenly there will be a flood when everyone switches on," he said.
One delegate was more concerned about what the OGC will classify as an e-procurement process. "I don't think the OGC is having a rethink about the target," he said. "But we will see a clearer definition of e-procurement, because that is not obvious at the moment."
The OGC's review, which is being carried out by consultancy Alan Fellowes Associates and due in June, will look at strategies, government legislation and how e-commerce elements can best be linked together.
"I have a lot of sympathy with the government," Charles Lowe, head of e-government for BT, told SM. "There are huge people management problems. E-procurement is taking away people's freedom to do lots of little things, like just ringing people up and buying goods, which they did before."
Lowe claimed that BT already made 78 per cent of its purchases electronically, although "not necessarily in the ideal form".
The DETR has just started biweekly meetings for core purchasing staff to understand e-procurement better. "It's a management issue here, with a huge training requirement," said Jones.