Transactions on the government’s eMarketplace, which is hosted by Procserve, have increased by as much as 90 percent in the past year, according to CEO Nigel Clifford.
Procserve was set up six years ago to act as an electronic marketplace for public sector buyers and private sector suppliers to meet and make transactions. Since then it has built up a network of over 20,000 suppliers and 6,000 buyers across most sectors of government.
Clifford said that a key reason that transactions have increased on Procserve is that procurement is now high up on the list of government’s priorities.
“I think the proper procurement of goods and services is on the strategic agenda. That’s clearly a good trend for us. People are thinking where can I get management information that tells me how much I am spending and about compliance with deals and contractors," he said.
“There is now a view that procurement is important and can lead to less painful ways of achieving cost reductions. Look at the Department for Work and Pensions as an example. It is using our electronic tools to run mini competitions to find training courses for the long-term unemployed.”
He added: “Previously that would have been a yellow pages activity, which would have required a period to search, a period to email, a period to get responses, a period to get prices and a period to actually book the training. Now we are seeing that done in a cycle time of six days.”
Clifford said that this also opens up the market to SMEs, as they are not only visible alongside big suppliers on the marketplace, but they are also being transacted with in a very efficient way.
Procserve is also currently running a pilot in Wales with MasterCard to introduce e-payments through the marketplace, which Clifford also hopes will encourage SMEs onto the service, and encourage buyers to select SMEs.
He said: “E-payments will provide a tight loop between being able to find a supplier, find a product, transact with that supplier, and use all the same information to pay – all within a tight transaction cycle.”
However, despite the flurry of activity over the past 12 months, Clifford believes that most government procurements are still done via a ‘pen and paper’ approach and Procserve faces a big challenge in encouraging all areas of government to use technology to become more efficient.
He said: “We know that there is still an awful lot of activity that can and should be progressing through our network – particularly in the fields of health and local government. There are many organisations that could benefit and that we should be engaging with.
“The majority of purchases still happen with purchasing pads, pen, paper, and email – all of that still exists. Part of our job is to try and move as much of that as we can to zero touch and electronic as possible.”
He added: “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s much more to do, let’s not get complacent about it.”
Procserve approaches this challenge by issuing a new release of the system every quarter, which aims to make procurement simpler and improve the visibility and management of information. It makes changes based on feedback from workshops and surgeries with both buyers and suppliers.
In other news, all upcoming Government Procurement Service ICT procurements have been put on hold pending the outcome of an internal review to assess the effectiveness of the current framework approach.