Offerman Consulting
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e-Prior: electronic procurement system for public administrations

Author: Adrian Offerman

Acronym: Open e-Prior
Web address: https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/software/openeprior/home
Country: EU, BE

Case abstract

e-Prior is an e-procurement system that facilitates standardised e-procurement document exchanges between a public administration and suppliers across Europe. It was originally developed by EC's Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT, responsible for delivering the digital services to enable EU policies and to support the Commission's internal administration) and is now used by almost all the Directorate-Generales. The Belgian federal government is the first to implement a national version of e-Prior, named the Mercurius platform. Full digitisation of public procurement can contribute significantly to improving the overall efficiency of public expenditure. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to modernise and simplify public administration, thereby reducing administrative burdens, increasing transparency and enabling growth.

Case description

e-Prior is an e-procurement system developed under the EC's ISA (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations) programme by the Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT).

It is an exchange platform connecting administrative back-office systems and is based on European standards. Basically, e-Prior facilitates standardised e-procurement document exchanges between a public administration on the one hand and suppliers across Europe on the other. The system includes a PEPPOL Access Point, opening up e-Prior to any supplier who is connected to this network.

Two levels

The e-Prior platform is deployed at two levels. It was originally developed by DIGIT and has now been implemented by almost all the Directorate-Generales. In addition, member states are supposed to have set up their own e-procurement platforms by 2018, possibly but not necessarily based on e-Prior.

The Belgian federal government was the first to implement their national version of e-Prior, named the Mercurius platform. It is deployed by Fedict, the Belgian Federal Public Service for Information and Communication Technology. In June 2014, the Belgian federal government received its first electronic invoice through the platform.

The Flemish part of Belgium is currently in the process of connecting to the Mercurius platform, while Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region have also been invited to connect. The countries Greece, Ireland, Norway and Portugal have been testing e-Prior. Most of them carried out pilots in the context of their participation in the PEPPOL LSP (Large-Scale Pilot).

Procurement cycle

According to Pieter Breyne, Director EU Institutions at PwC and involved with both the European and the Belgian implementations, e-Prior is currently being used mainly for post-award interactions. The most popular modules are e-Invoicing (often the first to be implemented), e-Ordering, e-Fulfilment and e-Request (for interactions within framework contracts). Other modules, i.e. e-Catalogues and e-Payment (reminders), are used less often.

The e-Prior software is currently being extended to include the pre-award process as well. For example, the e-Submission module (to answer a call for tenders) was taken into production for the first time last month. The software will build on TED, the electronic publication platform for public tenders. Eventually, e-Prior will cover the full procurement cycle.

We are currently completing the pre-award cycle, says Yuliya Krumova, responsible for IT Service Management and Coordination at the EC e-Procurement section. A release of e-Submission is already available on Joinup. A new release is planned for the end of this year which will include the rest of the pre-award chain: (basic) e-Evaluation and e-Awarding.

Project size and implementation

The e-Prior system has its origins in a 2007 pilot for electronic invoicing. According to Breyne, the scope of the e-procurement software was then broadened to include other domains and business processes, making it more generic. However, e-Prior still differentiates itself from other Business Process Management (BPM), workflow and chain management packages in its specific support for European public administrations, European tenders and their legal context.

e-Prior was first implemented in 2010 by DIGIT and is now being used by almost all the Directorate-Generales for their post-award interactions. European public agencies are expected to connect their back-office systems to the platform. Suppliers can either connect through the Web Services interface or use the Supplier Portal. Member states are supposed to have set up their own e-procurement platforms by 2018.

Open source software

DIGIT spent 9.1 million euro on the implementation and support of the e-Prior project in the period 2010-2014. The software, named Open e-Prior, is available under the EUPL open source licence.

Although the EC could offer e-Prior's e-procurement functionality to member states through a Shared Services Centre (SSC), that has not been done because it would interfere with the market. Using open source, governments can use service providers to implement the system and thus stimulate their local economies. Of course, other solutions are available in the market as well.

The Open e-PRIOR team offers (limited) support for any public administration willing to adopt the software, says Krumova. The EC does not replace service providers or system integrators who are usually involved in the installation, integration with the back-office system(s) of the administration, onboarding of suppliers, etc. The ISA funding is ending this. We will now look into the funding possibilities of ISA2 for 2016 onwards.

We have planned to put in place a real open-source community around Open ePrior, which will allow more transparency and facilitate even more contributions from users. We already have received a contribution from the Belgian federal government. They provided us with a Dutch translation of the Supplier Portal.

Belgium

The Belgian federal e-Prior system was implemented by Fedict with the help of a local integrator. The Mercurius project started two years ago and required some customisation to integrate the platform with the Federal Service Bus (FSB, providing authentication and digital signatures) and Fedcom [in Dutch], the federal accounting system.

The Mercurius system is now operational and the first invoices have recently been sent by the Belgian energy corporation Electrabel to three federal services. Currently, a plan is being made to connect more agencies and contractors. The new federal government wants every service to be connected and able to process electronic invoices by the end of 2015. This initiative is part of the coalition agreement and is supported by the minister responsible, Alexander De Croo. The stimulus plan will be set into motion at the beginning of 2015, so the number of connected agencies is expected to increase over the coming months.

The lead time of the Mercurius project was 18 months. Specifically the customisations required to integrate the e-Prior software with the existing federal systems took time and effort. According to Breyne, 200,000 euro would be a typical investment for the deployment of e-Prior.

Flanders

The Flemish region of Belgium is currently working on its connection to the Mercurius platform. This will use the MAGDA [in Dutch] regional service bus to connect the back-office systems to Mercurius. The main Flemish financial back-office system (OraFin, a proprietary product) has recently been connected. Two others (VDAB and OVAM) [in Dutch] are almost there.

The federal government has asked to cooperate on this project, aiming to interconnect the two systems and their agents. Connecting Flanders to the Mercurius platform makes all regionally connected participants immediately part of the federal platform.

The Walloon region of Belgium is currently considering how to implement e-procurement. They are still using an old proprietary mainframe system, so they can either open it up or migrate to a more modern platform. Either way, the implementation of e-Prior in Wallonia is expected to take some time.

Impact, innovation and results

According to the EC, public expenditure on goods, works and services represents 19 percent of the EU's GDP. Managing public procurement more efficiently by fully digitising it (end-to-end e-procurement) can significantly contribute to improving the overall efficiency of public expenditure. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to modernise and simplify public administration, that way reducing administrative burdens, increasing transparency and enabling growth.

For e-invoicing, according to studies carried out by the member states, some of which implemented their own systems, the potential savings are several orders of magnitude larger than the implementation costs. The initial investment can be amortised within a very short period of time: one to two years maximum, and in many cases even shorter. Overall, the EC estimates that implementing e-invoicing in public procurement across the EU could generate savings of up to 2.3 billion euro a year.

Policies and savings

Directive 2014/55/EU on e-invoicing in public procurement was published in May 2014. It calls for the reception and processing of e-invoices to become mandatory in Q3 2018.

The Flemish region is aiming to receive, process and deliver all public invoices electronically by the end of 2016. They expect the cost for companies to fall from 11.10 to 4.20 euro per invoice, a reduction of 62 percent. Assuming the Flemish government receives 700,000 invoices a year, this amounts to an annual saving of 4,830,000 euro.

Multimedia content

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