13 July 2000 | David Arminas
The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) will be more cautious about committing itself to large e-procurement projects and look for solid business cases where e-commerce has proved profitable.
"We are looking to build on experience," said Jane Gibbs, the OGC's head of e-commerce. "We will refocus our efforts to acknowledge that understanding the human dimension and how e-procurement works with other internal systems are essential for the successful implementation of e-commerce programmes."
Gibbs' comments follow the OGC's announcement at the beginning of the month that it had abandoned its "shopping mall" project - an electronic catalogue to help government departments meet their target, dubbed "aspirational", of buying 90 per cent of their low-value, routine goods electronically by 2001.
"I can understand the OGC's apparent caution, given the hype versus the reality about e-commerce," said Ian Tough, head of procurement at the Department of Trade and Industry, which is spearheading attempts to make the UK the best place in Europe in which to conduct e-commerce.
"One problem for the government in proving a business case is that we are at the leading edge of a lot of e-commerce technology," he added.
"Now that we have Peter Gershon on board as chief executive, we can stop and reflect," said Gibbs.
Gershon called for an independent review of the government's e-commerce strategies soon after he took office in April.
The review's findings, which have not been made public, did not suggest directly that the shopping mall should be cancelled, Gibbs explained. Instead, they exposed the difficulties in creating a cross-organisational e-procurement system for departments with so many independent and diverse back-office processes.
While dropping the mall may appear a setback to reaching the 90 per cent target, she added, it had got people thinking about the changes to the role of purchasing, which is essential to a successful e-commerce strategy.
The National Audit Office has praised several departments for their quick and efficient use of the government purchasing card, which also shows that attitudes are changing, she said.
The mall was in danger of being out of date before it arrived and the OGC will focus on small e-commerce pilot projects to improve efficiencies, Gibbs added. "We are still going ahead with some electronic tendering this autumn and six departments are keen to start."
The move to stop the mall project will allow space to review a wider range of e-commerce options, she said. The OGC will study online marketplaces, such as Covisint, the automotive exchange planned by Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler.