Workshop participants welcomed current and foreseen initiatives under the IDA programme. They emphasised the momentum created by the new legislative framework and the need to tackle issues such as standardisation, partnerships and exchange between public administrations and the private sector, transparency and awareness issues, as well as security concerns. Discussions highlighted the need for action at two levels. On one hand, there are issues proper to the computerisation of public procurement procedures, such as the compliance and testing of systems against the legal requirements and the interoperability of different solutions. On the other hand, the workshop made also evident general concerns relating to the existence of certain e-government services such as business registers or the use of electronic signatures.
The new legislative framework
The legislative package of public procurement Directives (2004/17/EC and 2004/18/EC) published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) on 30 April sets out specific rules for conducting public procurement electronically. The aim of the Directives is not to re-invent e-procurement for the public sector but rather to make sure that any business with a PC, internet connection and some basic knowledge of public procurement can tender for contracts across Europe.
Member States should bring into force the necessary national laws, regulations and administrative provisions to comply with the new Directives by 31 January 2006 and ensure compliance of procurement systems with the new legal framework.
The EU rules aim at ensuring transparency, equality of treatment and fair competition for all businesses. To prevent electronic barriers in the public procurement process the legislation requires that means and tools of communication should be non-discriminatory, generally available and interoperable with the information and communication technology products in general use. Among other things, the directives encourage the electronic submission of tenders and the use of certain electronic purchasing techniques such as dynamic purchasing systems, electronic auctions, electronic framework agreements and e-catalogues. Member States may require the use of advanced electronic signatures in the tendering process provided these comply with Directive 1999/93/EC on digital signatures.
Bringing down e-barriers
IDA plays a leading role in fostering Europe-wide interoperability. Feedback from attendants regarding IDA activities was very constructive and well received by the Commission. IDABC, the successor programme to IDA, will need to address the issues raised as of 2005.
In order to ensure compliance with the non-discrimination and interoperability requirements set by the Directives, a number of initiatives have already been launched by IDA to address technical issues.
A first IDA project concerns the development of common guidelines and functional specifications for developing e-procurement systems or services in line with the new legislative framework, and the building of demonstrators to facilitate learning and training of users. Based on a state-of-the art study of Member States’ systems, a set of guidelines for technical implementation is currently being prepared. Complementing these guidelines, the demonstrators will comprise static and dynamic software simulators to assist administrations in understanding, validating and demonstrating the possibilities offered by the Directives. Guidelines and demonstrators should cover most procurement phases (e.g. e-notification, e-tendering, and e-awarding) as well as all e-procurement procedures.
Another project relates to the development of generic data models (XML schemas) to support the automation of data exchanges in the different phases of e-procurement. This should support seamless communication between systems in use by administrations and businesses. A first set of schemas has already been prepared for the e-ordering and e-invoicing phases, and work has almost finished on the e-tendering and e-awarding phases. The structure of these schemas is extensible, making it possible to integrate further phases at a later stage, such as e-catalogue exchanges. The IDA XML schemas are currently being reviewed to ensure compatibility with international standards, and pilot projects at national level are under consideration to test them in a live environment.
The IDA workshop on May 11 allowed participants to learn about current developments in Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Italy.