Unlocking the True Potential of E-Procurement: How Innovation can deliver more Public Happiness

Author :

Malcolm De Silva

Malcolm, a seasoned expert in global international development, possesses an extensive background spanning over 25 years in the legal, contracting, and procurement sectors. Throughout his career, he has provided valuable counsel to governments, international organizations, and development entities on procurement innovation, reform, and optimization. His unique professional journey includes holding staff positions at international institutions such as the European Space Agency, the European Spallation Source, Mercy Corps, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Southern Observatory, and the Asian Development Bank. Driven by his passion for excellence, Malcolm ventured to establish the Global Best Practice Group (GBPG). As the founder, he has cultivated a consultancy portfolio with a distinct emphasis on enhancing performance and transparency through regulatory and internal business process reform. His expertise extends to operational and policy development, strategic implementation of e-procurement solutions, and relevant capacity-building initiatives. With a steadfast commitment to delivering tangible results, Malcolm’s consultancy services at GBPG empower organizations to achieve optimal outcomes and foster sustainable growth.

Imagine a world where we make the most of our e-toys, employing them with unmatched efficiency, wisdom, and frequency to create a society that thrives on “more public happiness.” It’s not just a dream—it is an achievable reality. E-procurement, fuelled by government initiatives for economic development, holds the key to fostering innovation, diversifying sectors, and achieving remarkable efficiency gains.

The global value of public procurement reached an astounding US$13 trillion in 2018.  At the same time, more and more countries are embracing e-procurement, recognizing its immense potential. In fact, according to the UN, a staggering 161 out of 193 countries now publish their contractual opportunities online.

But there’s still work to be done. While tender notices flood the digital landscape, some e-procurement platforms lack the substance and leveraging techniques needed to take full advantage of this transformative pathway, while usability remains a pending subject. Thankfully the required IT infrastructure is already in place, and with the right allocation of resources, capacity building, and strategic development, key stakeholders can overcome these challenges together.

In today’s dynamic landscape, factors like the past COVID-19 pandemic and potential future pandemics, supply chain disruptions, rising energy prices, inflationary pressures, and global market instability make resilient procurement and contracting a top priority. By joining forces, stakeholders can develop strategies that ensure robustness in our procurement processes and supply chain management.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us valuable lessons. It has shown us that we can harness innovation to strengthen procurement planning and crisis responses. By leveraging applications, mobile phone usage, databases, and platforms, we can be better prepared and more resilient in the face of adversity. And the benefits are tangible – e-auctions in certain small island states, for example, have saved over $100 million USD and slashed the time and costs involved in inviting and receiving bids.

E-procurement technology tools can be true game-changers taking public procurement to the next level that it so badly needs – the new impetus or kick start. They can drive innovation steps further and positively impact environmental management, private sector competitiveness, government transparency, and overall effectiveness and efficiency. Imagine reduced costs, decreased corruption, increased trust in government, accelerated growth, and improved aid acquisition—all within reach through better-utilized e-procurement activities using more national pooling.

Does the evidence speak? The European Commission achieved significant savings of 5 to 20% for contracting authorities and entities after transitioning to e-procurement in 2012. South Korea blazed a trail in e-procurement implementation, saving a whopping $4.5 billion annually through its KONEPS platform. Even in the face of conflict, Ukraine’s Prozorro platform successfully increased competition, reduced prices, and saved an average of 9.7% per tender. In Asia there is a consistent growth of government e-procurement platforms and tender websites.

To supercharge public procurement innovation and pooled e-procurement there is potential to propose a range of exciting initiatives. Picture a world where we optimize e-procurement tools, we place better resources to compile and publish procurement data, establish procurement benchmarks, promote knowledge sharing, create more opportunities for professional advancement, establish more procurement forums, harness the power of e-procurement apps, and conduct a comprehensive regional feasibility study for pooled e-procurement initiatives.

So as we embark on a new post- Covid era, where procurement and supply chain are in the limelight and recognising that e-procurement technology is an established practice within the majority of the world’s countries, we have the unique opportunity and the relevant technology to embrace and implement pooled e-procurement. According to the World Health Organization pooled procurement increases purchasing power and “achieves greater efficiency through the sharing of workload, expertise and human resources”. Pooling has long been an established practice in the public health field. Now we need to start seeing it as a public policy option to improve public procurement outcomes. Building on existing e-procurement technology, international pooling is a viable and logical alternative.

But what are the next steps? Can we envision and implement multi-lateral agreements on pooled e-procurement, the formation in particular of small state expert groups on pooled e-procurement innovation, and the launch of more ground-breaking regional pooled e-procurement pilot projects? These initiatives mark the next chapter in our e-procurement journey, empowering states to unlock innovation and diversify their economies. These strategic steps could serve as crucial milestones towards utilizing further the potential of e-procurement and pooled procurement, and help smaller states to foster innovation, achieve economic diversification, and realize significant efficiency gains in public procurement processes.

We should seize this opportunity and embark on a transformational voyage with e-procurement as our compass. Why? Public happiness is fed by better health, transport and education services and infrastructure. However “happiness” does not come ready made, instead, as the Dalai Lama puts it, it comes from one’s own actions. With political will, solidarity and strategic purpose, it may be feasible to navigate the new frontier of digital innovation and create a future where procurement possibilities are increased and public happiness is boosted.


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