24 August 2000 | Cathy Hayward
The Buying Agency (TBA), an executive agency of the Office of Government Commerce, will extend its e-procurement pilot scheme for low-value, high-volume goods to the whole of the public sector next month.
The marketplace pilot, which has been running since April, brings together 35 key public sector customers, mainly local authorities and higher education bodies, and 400 private-sector suppliers in a trading exchange offering 500,000 different products and services.
A third of the scheme's users have regularly purchased products over the past six months. "Our aim is to turn the remaining browsers into buyers," said Gerry Grimes, TBA's e-commerce project manager.
The pilot is part of the government's e-commerce drive but, unlike other government schemes, Grimes is keen not to set targets. "We're not in the business of setting false targets or aspirational goals," he said. "But we want the agency to be the preferred method of trading for the public sector over the next three years."
The exchange, at tba.gov.uk, allows customers to browse the full TBA catalogue, place orders, check order status and set authorisation chains and budget limits. TBA aims to offer invoicing, payment and delivery tracking online within 18 months.
Reducing administrative and transaction costs is the key benefit for customers. "It costs the Department of Social Security about £76 to process each purchase order. TBA's electronic marketplace reduces that to about a tenth," said Grimes.
The scheme's extension follows a pilot users' group meeting earlier this month. Feedback was positive, but security concerns are still seen as a barrier to e-procurement, he added.
"I believe this is more a perceived risk than a real danger. If we can convince people that trading online is as safe as by paper, then we've cracked it."
Dealing with a secure, reliable supplier is also advantageous, according to Alan Tuckwood, head of catering services at HM Prison Service. "Users know that all Home Office procurement rules and statutory regulations are being complied with."
TBA's e-marketplace also benefits the supplier, said Grimes, by providing information about who is looking at which products.