€1.3bn in EU contracts awarded through eTenders

22 Mar 2007

An estimated €1.3bn in EU-wide contracts are understood to have been awarded through the Department of Finance’s pioneering eTenders procurement portal last year, siliconrepublic.com has learned.

Since going live in March 2001 it is estimated that on average a total of €15bn worth of contracts from State authorities have been awarded annually through the portal.

According to figures provided by eTenders there are over 1,647 State authorities registered on the site to acquire anything from building materials to computer supplies and office materials.

The number of suppliers registered on the eTenders site numbered 35,678 on 7 March last.

As well as this the number of active notices published on the site numbered 1,075 and the number of active tenders taking place numbered 914.

The site attracts on average around 35,000 expressions of interest in notices per month from businesses pitching for business from the Government.

“Initially eTenders was just for advertising public sector tenders but now it has developed into a full e-procurement and e-tendering site in line with the European Journal,” explained Liz Nolan, assistant principal at the Department of Finance and the key driving force behind eTenders.

A recent achievement for the eTenders site has been the attainment of eSender status, an EU distinction for sites that enable tenders using XML.

“It took several months of rigorous testing before we were granted eSender status,” Nolan explained.

The success of the eTenders procurement portal so far was recognised in recent weeks at the Irish eGovernment Awards where the Department of Finance site picked up the Central Irish eGovernment Award 2007.

Nolan said the dynamic nature of the site cannot be underestimated and the use of XML has led to a more transparent interaction between business and government departments

“Potential buyers attach all tender documents and upload them to the site so that suppliers can download them. One of the dynamic features of the site is that buyers can do online clarifications with suppliers by posing questions online.

“The result is a much more transparent interaction whereby the buyer doesn’t have to contact every interested suppliers.

“For suppliers the advantage for them is they can also have email alerts when a tender of interest to them is published. This tender can be changed at any stage whatever category of goods and service it is. The benefit for the supplier is they don’t have to check the site every day and are kept up to speed with developments,” says Nolan.

Nolan says that one of the objectives of the portal was to encourage more small to medium-sized enterprises to pitch for State business. “We have done vital work in the areas of standardisation and templates of documents to simplify the e-procurement agenda for businesses.”

However, she warned that each tender is different. “For certain tenders it is easy to evaluate the criteria but in the case of design competition such as for the construction of a new building it’s not that straightforward.”

For the past four years, the development of the eTenders site has been managed by an Aberdeen-based web consultancy called Millstream Associates but under EU rules the eTenders site is obliged to re-tender the business this year.

“It has to be a Europe-wide tender,” explains Nolan. “Lots of companies could provide the service but we’ve yet to define what we’re seeking. It could take several months because of the level of consultation required.”

On winning the recent e-government award, Nolan said: “It has vindicated the approach we have taken.

“We made strong efforts to ensure the site has been accessible on all levels, including an Irish-language version. We carried out an independent audit to achieve that,” she said.

By John Kennedy