Electronic submission of public procurement documents (“e-procurement”) will become mandatory for all contracting authorities and procedures in September 2018, as required in the Public Procurement Directives (Directives 2014/24/EU and 2014/25/EU). E-procurement, after September 2018, will mean full electronic communication between contracting authorities and economic operators in the conduct of public tenders. Until then, it is mandatory only for the central purchasing bodies.
Ukraine, although not an EU Member State, introduced e-procurement on 1 August 2016 and Hungary aims to do so by 21 December 2017. Regarding e-procurement by central purchasing bodies, now it is available in Hungary (as of 1 February 2017) and in Poland (as of 18 April 2017).
What is e-procurement?
E-procurement is the automation and digitalisation of the procurement process by using internet based applications and technology for making public procurement awards. The e-tools for procurement include e-tendering platforms, e-auctions, e-catalogues, dynamic purchasing systems and e-invoicing. Some of the other e-tools, like the European Single Procurement Document, have already been introduced, although they are not fully functioning in all places yet.
E-procurement is expected to bring various benefits both for tenderers and for contracting authorities, including:
- Reduced costs;
- A simplified and shortened process;
- Reduced red-tape and administrative burdens;
- Increased transparency;
- Greater recognition of innovation;
- Easier access to tenders for small and medium-sized companies; and
- A reduced environmental footprint.
The e-tendering platforms will be fundamental to the success of e-procurement. These platforms will enable contracting authorities to publish tender notices and tender documentation, accept e-submissions, evaluate and score tenders, communicate with the tenderers, etc.
According to the European Commission, there are three ways governments can provide e-tendering platforms: (i) develop/procure a single national e-tendering platform; (ii) allow a limited number of certified e-tendering platforms to operate on the market with national accreditation required; or (iii) allow several platform providers to freely operate on the market with no required national accreditation.
Some states, such as Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary would go for one national platform. By way of comparison, the UK countries would most likely also choose the single-platform option. Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Hungary already have operating e-tendering platforms. Romania is in the process of creating an alternative to the national platform it currently uses.
Bulgaria and Poland do not yet have an operating e-tendering platform: The Bulgarian Public Procurement Agency has opened a public procedure for development of the national e-tendering platform; and Poland has not yet published information for the development of its e-tendering platform.
There is a general concern that the e-procurement platforms may be less user friendly than intended. Tenderers and contracting authorities are concerned that the e-tendering tools will have various functionality problems and technical issues, resulting in the loss of information, broken communication, late submission, etc. There is also concern that e-procurement platforms will result in additional costs for training staff, which, some think, may discourage small and medium sized companies from participating in tender procedures. Further, while some think that e-tendering platforms may help reduce unlawful practices, others are concerned that electronic tools will increase the control over major tenders.
Member States that do not yet have operating systems are not sure they will meet the September 2017 deadline as the development of the platforms is more time-consuming than initially expected.