EC deadline for e-procurement is laughable

30 April 2012
In an exclusive for SM, I would like to announce I am setting the deadline of 27 August 2015 to be when I am the first person to set foot on Mars. I am just as likely to meet this target as the European Commission is to achieve its goal that all public sector procurement will be carried out electronically by mid-2016. The Commission describes the target as “ambitious”. I would describe it as laughable. In 2005, it set a deadline for full e-procurement to be achieved by 2010, which was subsequently missed. What makes it believe it can accomplish in the next four years what it previously failed to do in five? It currently puts the use of e-procurement in processes across the EU at between 5 and 10 per cent. The Commission has promised what it describes as “flanking measures” to support the transition, including financial support, sharing of best practice, monitoring adoption and a “wide-ranging dissemination strategy to inform stakeholders about the opportunities and benefits offered by e-procurement”. Problem solved then. Internal market commissioner Michel Barnier might as well erect a huge ‘mission accomplished’ banner and start preparing his victory speech. Technology has moved on, making it simpler for authorities to adopt – and undoubtedly e-procurement systems providers are licking their lips in anticipation of a bonanza of public sector cash – but I haven’t noticed a groundswell of support. Even in the EU’s own consultation, just 53 per cent were in favour of a mandatory approach (although, in fairness, this was higher than the 42 per cent who were opposed). The EC cites “€100 billion” (£82 billion) savings as major driver (it would be interesting to know how exactly that particular number was extrapolated), as well as increased access and transparency for SMEs. I am not opposed to the use of technology. It can make processes simpler and more efficient and save organisations money. But the only thing setting a target like this will achieve is public sector authorities buying ill-suited, over-specified, expensive systems in a desperate rush to meet the deadline – leaving them unable to accomplish the real goals behind adoption.
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