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Peppol - The backbone for electronic public procurement in Europe

Source: Public Sector Executive Sept/Oct 2012

In 2008, the PEPPOL (Pan-European Public Procurement Online) project was launched with the goal to enable businesses to communicate electronically with any European government institution in the procurement process. OpenPEPPOL’s secretary general, André Hoddevik, and communications director, Carmen Ciciriello, explain more.

While many EU countries already use electronic procurement to make tendering of public sector contracts simpler and more efficient, most of these solutions are implemented solely on a national or regional level, each with their own separate systems and standards, unable to connect easily to each other, creating ‘islands of eProcurement’.

PEPPOL solved these challenges by aligning business processes using common standards, addressing common legal issues and developing open source technologies. The project was jointly funded by the European Commission and a consortium of 18 government agencies from 11 Member States and associated countries: Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

For governments, PEPPOL increases opportunities for greater competition and better value for tax-payer’s money, as well as fostering accountability, predictability and transparency in public procurement processes. For the technology industry, PEPPOL encourages the use of new and innovative services and software solutions; creating new business opportunities across a larger community. For businesses, PEPPOL simplifies their access to a vast public procurement market and lowers the cost of supplying to public sector customers.

PEPPOL does not attempt to provide an integrated platform but addresses instead the most critical phases of the electronic public procurement process, focusing on interoperability and standardisation. It offers a set of IT specifications – PEPPOL BIS and BusDox – to define common business processes and information content to be used when exchanging electronic business documents, across borders or nationally. Thus, the strategy is not to replace existing solutions, but to integrate them and allow them to communicate. This enables for example a French company to receive orders and send invoices to a Danish contracting authority as easily as they would in their home countries.

PEPPOL components

The PEPPOL Transport Infrastructure (PEPPOL network) interconnects eProcurement systems using common and nationally compatible standards. Access to the PEPPOL network takes place through access points, which are currently provided by both government agencies and private companies. Once connected to the PEPPOL network, contracting authorities can communicate electronically with any supplier already in the network.

In the pre-award phase, PEPPOL offers a Virtual Company Dossier for suppliers to collect and submit company information (certificates, attestations and evidence information) in a standardised and therefore ‘re-usable’ format, an eCatalogue for use in the tendering process to submit product information, and a pan- European eSignature validation service.

In the post-award phase, PEPPOL BIS compliant documents (eg eCatalogues, eOrders, eInvoices) are exchanged through the open and secure PEPPOL network, between sending and receiving access points for public sector buyers and their suppliers.

Contracting authorities using national or regional eProcurement solutions can also connect to the PEPPOL network, converting documents to and from the PEPPOL specifications during the transport phase. Using PEPPOL-based solutions, they can easily create eProcurement communities, even at a local level, providing the highest level of services, efficiencies and opportunities.

From a large scale pilot project to market driven adoption

As the PEPPOL project reached a successful completion, in August 2012, with the PEPPOL specifications being implemented across Europe, the OpenPEPPOL Association, comprised of public and private members of the PEPPOL community, has taken over the responsibilities previously carried out by the PEPPOL Consortium. OpenPEPPOL has been established as a non-profit international association and began official operations on September 1, 2012.

OpenPEPPOL encourages European governments and their suppliers to continue implementing eProcurement using the PEPPOL specifications and sharing best practices. The Association will foster the development of innovative PEPPOL-based ICT products and services, promoting their use also in the Business to Business context, and will ensure that the PEPPOL network continues to grow in an open, accessible and compliant manner.

By becoming a member of OpenPEPPOL, private and public organisations have the unique opportunity to join forces and drive adoption of standards, process automation and connectivity across Europe. With the longterm sustainability of PEPPOL specifications assured, major ICT vendors are committing to join OpenPEPPOL. As more products are developed, businesses and contracting authorities will have the choice of simple, inexpensive ways to implement PEPPOL’s eProcurement solutions, which will increase market driven adoption.

PEPPOL components have been implemented successfully in 11 European countries to date, with 50 PEPPOL Access Points established and interest also increasing from outside of the EU. Countries like Norway and Austria have recently made eInvoicing mandatory for public sector suppliers, referencing the PEPPOL eInvoicing specifications and transport infrastructure, a trend that is expected to continue.

It has been estimated that a full switch to eProcurement may save between €50-75bn on public procurement in the EU per year. With the European Commission’s objective to make eProcurement mandatory by 2016, PEPPOL is facilitating cross-border trade and helping Europe move towards a ‘digital single market’.

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