Procurement goes digital
Embedding the use of technology within the procurement process is one of the significant policy changes introduced in the new Directive on Public Procurement. It supports the drive to increase efficiency and reduce the administrative burden on both contracting authorities and bidders alike.
The biggest beneficiaries are likely to be SMEs, who will find that the mandated use of electronic communications and other technology solutions aimed at reducing the burden of bidding, will improve their ability to compete on a variety of tenders.
- Electronic communication will become mandatory for both sharing information and all communications relating to tender opportunities
- Contracting authorities are enabled to use electronic processes to validate and evaluate tenders – providing that these processes are appropriate to the tendered opportunities
- Bidders will be able to view, download and submit information electronically
- Self-certification of compliance with core requirements using an electronic European Single Procurement Document
- Increased use of electronic catalogues and dynamic purchasing systems
- Increased use of electronic signatures to sign and authenticate electronic documentation issued by both contracting authority and participant
The near instantaneous communication offered by electronic communications is reflected within the shorter time frames applicable to each stage of the process. This streamlined process is a benefit to both contracting authorities and bidders - reducing the time and effort required to support the tender.
Embracing technology at various stages of the process enables significant reductions in the administrative burden for all participants: contracting authorities will no longer need to issue hard copies of documents to multiple bidders, and may find that the use of central electronic repositories accessible by bidders means that data can be uploaded once, reducing the burden on email and other electronic storage.
Issuing notices electronically is near instantaneous communication – meaning that notice periods can commence without waiting for delivery by third parties.
All participants are likely to benefit from increased certainty and confidentiality. Different levels of security protection, including various forms of electronic signatures, can give assurance as to the integrity of submitted materials. The digital footprint will offer a more complete evidential trail of the overall transaction, to support or defend any challenges.
There will be increased certainty for all participants – transmissions can be time-stamped to be clear whether received in/out of time; documents can be secured and/or tracked, improving the integrity of the process.
Bidders will find that using technology solutions and, in particular, electronic communications will reduce the burden for them in bidding for tenders – however, the unease of waiting for confirmation of delivery by the courier is likely to be replaced by the “egg-timer” waiting for confirmation that the tender has been uploaded in time.
Contracting authorities are under a positive duty to ensure the integrity of information exchanged and prevent inappropriate disclosure of confidential information received from bidders. The use of electronic communications increases the risk that data is issued to the wrong bidder or disclosed to the wrong party. Contracting authorities will need to ensure that they have appropriate procedural safeguards to mitigate this risk.
Whilst adopting any technology solutions to support the procurement activity – contracting authorities must always bear in mind the overriding principles of transparency, fairness and non-discrimination. Both the new Directive and UK draft Regulations are technology neutral – and contracting authorities must ensure that they do not restrict the ability of potential bidders by mandating specific technology formats.
The changes are not so much a sea-change, but more the Directive catching up with current practice. That said, codifying the use of technology and, in particular, mandating electronic communications, is likely to encourage greater use of technology which can only be beneficial in making the overall procurement process more efficient – a win for contracting authorities, bidders and consumers of the procured services.