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'By the public sector, for the public sector'

Source: Public Sector Executive Dec/Jan 2015

Anthony Oliver, Westminster City Council’s chief procurement officer, describes a new online procurement system that’s attracting interest from a number of councils.

Procurement in the public sector is one of those things you not only have to get right; you have to be seen to get it right – and prove it. So, a new system that enables all that, while fuelling efficiencies and making the process quicker and easier for both councils and suppliers: that could be really useful. And capitalEsourcing is proving to be very useful.

The official line is that capitalEsourcing is an online system that enables the automation of the sourcing process, whilst driving savings through effective procurement – encompassing spend analysis, strategic sourcing, evaluation, contract management, compliance, and supplier performance management. In short, it does procurement better. I say it “does procurement better”; it’s doing it better at the tri-borough councils at Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea, while Hillingdon, Newham & Havering have also now signed up and will ‘go live’ soon.

capitalEsourcing is a one-stop shop built by the public sector for the public sector. It was first developed in September 2013 by Westminster City Council and BravoSolution. (To give you some idea of Bravo’s pedigree, it was recently voted best-of-breed in the market by Gartner.)

Let’s look at the old way of doing things. First a council has to advertise to suppliers that a contract to provide a service is up for grabs. Any number of suppliers then register their interest by emailing the buyer or writing to them. There’ll be lots of printing and emailing internally before the specifications are individually emailed or posted to all the suppliers. All of this has to be tracked and recorded separately. Then the bids arrive – probably in the post and probably courtesy of an expensive courier. Then the decision has to be made and everyone…you get the picture. Let’s face it, many of us have been part of the picture. And all the time, we need to keep an audit trail detailing all the separate interactions, with the inevitably increased risk of human error and possible challenges to the final decision.

capitalEsourcing genuinely does change all that. Any companies or individuals hoping to supply any of our councils have to register (for free), selecting the categories they’re interested in. They’ll then be notified of any opportunities… they can download the specifications and then bid online. (“Hello, is that the courier? Nothing today thank you.”) All the interaction is done through the system; everything is automatically documented, recorded – and auditable. With all the contracts filed via the system too – both the councils and suppliers know exactly where they stand without the need for tracking down the paperwork in a dusty cupboard.

It sounds very simple. It is very simple. That’s why it works. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, BT bid for and was awarded a contract to supply a range of IT services for the tri-borough councils via capitalEsourcing. BT’s chief technology officer of local and devolved government, Hayden Edwards, said: “The use of the capitalEsourcing electronic system for tendering meant that not only did we get real-time access to alerts, information and responses from the customer, but there is a full, auditable trail of correspondence for both parties. This provides real assurance to all bidders involved in the tender process. Printing numerous, and usually very large, copies of bid documentation can also be an unwanted and last minute distraction to a bidder when you are striving for a final quality check or sign-off.”

If you still need convincing, consider the potential benefits with compliance. The Remedies Directive has increased the number of challenges in the public sector following the award of any contract, which means a system-driven process that is repeatable – and fully auditable – is essential.

And saving on couriers isn’t the only potential boost to a council’s bottom line. capitalEsourcing’s technology helps to automate all stages of the sourcing process including planning, qualification, negotiation, contract award and finally performance management.

Newham and Havering councils signed up for capitalEsourcing a couple of months ago and are now working to incorporate the system into their work. Deborah Hindson is director of finance for oneSource which represents both councils. She said: “Through our shared service, we are pleased to be among the first to sign up for this innovative online procurement system. It offers us an opportunity to benefit from what promises to be the best in class of electronic tendering suites.”

They’re obviously hoping to benefit from the same innovations that my tri-borough colleagues have already enjoyed. It’s a product that has been shown to work – and we’d be very happy for other councils to join our revolution.

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Above: Anthony Oliver

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