The future of government eprocurement: the digitization of the Public Administration, interoperability, and smart working are themes that we have been hearing about more and more for some time now. In recent months, as a consequence of the Covid-19 emergency, they have become almost a mantra. In this difficult period, both lights and shadows of digital have emerged and, at all levels, we have been able to see both the opportunities that digital offers, as well as how much still remains to be done.
Globally, the transition to digital involves all areas of our society, but here we want to focus on one area in particular, that has, perhaps more than others, a greater opportunity to connect the public sector with the private sector, constituting a formidable engine of change: the implementation of government eprocurement.
The importance of this sector has also been highlighted by the European Commission in outlining the response to the crisis caused by the health emergency, which has resulted in the issuing of the Recovery Plan.
The objectives of the Recovery Plan
In this period, the Italian government is engaged in the development of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR – Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza). Through the PNRR, it will be necessary to outline in detail the ways that Italy intends to use the substantial resources — around €209 billion — that the Recovery Fund provides to our country.
The Recovery Plan funds derive directly from a tool approved by the European Commission last July, the Next Generation EU. In defining it, the Commission has also defined some important “stakes”. For example, it has established that at least 20% of the funds allocated to each country be allocated to digital. At the same time, the Commission also provided 7 flagship objectives to be taken into account to undertake an effective and successful digital transition:
- Connectivity, achieving a more uniform coverage of territories, also through the 5G network;
- Investments in research and development;
- Human capital, through the development of digital capacity;
- eGovernment, with the development of digital public services;
- Digitization of enterprises;
- Investment in digital capabilities and deployment of advanced technologies, including cloud infrastructure deployment;
- Going green, also for the digital sector.
In fact, for the European Commission, digital technology is of central importance as a tool and pillar for the total rethinking of economic paradigms and to support the greening of the European economy. This is why the two European objectives of a “green revolution” and “digital revolution” must go hand in hand.
The Italian Government, in preparing the guidelines that will oversee the development of the projects that will make up our PNRR, has taken over the contents of the objectives identified by the European Commission. Here, the digitalization of the PA in all its branches, the evolution of the level of connectivity throughout the territory, the digital transformation of companies, and the growth of investments in Research and Development, are central.
To achieve these and other objectives outlined in the Recovery Plan and, above all, to successfully manage the huge amount of economic resources allocated, it is crucial to be able to count on an efficient and transparent Public Administration that can guarantee credibility, not only to Italian citizens but also to all member states. Remember, all funds must be committed by 2023, and all investments must be completed no later than 2026.
This is why the digitization of the government procurement cycle continues to be a priority on both European and national levels. In our recent webinar on this topic, we had the opportunity to go deep in each of these points, and we saw how Italy has already taken many important steps by relying on a series of tools and some new, ambitious projects.
A look at current projects for government eprocurement
Recently, there has been much talk of the digitization of the government eprocurement cycle because many projects have been undertaken, some of which are already fully operational. In fact, we have already described the introduction of the NSO platform and the electronic ordering process in detail. Proximity and the digitization of the procurement cycle could be extended to all public administrations and also to the Document of Transport (DDT) for which there is currently no formal standard, although we already have effective technical solutions available.
Other developing projects that complete the picture of the main activities in this realm include:
- DGUE – European Single Tender Document;
- SDG – Single Digital Gateway;
These are three different tools that aim for digitization and interoperability at the community level for different phases of access to public services, both for individual citizens and businesses. The DGUE in particular aims to streamline and standardize the presentation of documentation by operators submitting in the tender process.
The Single Digital Gateway or the European Digital Single Desk implements the “once only” principle, which is central at both the European and Italian level. The SDG aims to be a single point of contact for citizens and businesses in accessing public administration services, also at a cross-border level. In the future, the SDG will be more and more relevant also for companies since it will be the starting point of all procedures concerning Public Administration services and purchases. The eForms tool is aimed at digitizing all public contracts.
A new tool for government eprocurement: the SCALES project
However, we are moving in a constantly evolving scenario and, in this sense, we cannot fail to mention the new, important SCALES – (Supply Chain Architecture Leading to Enhanced Services) project. Funded by the European Commission and coordinated by AgID (Agenzia per l’Italia Digitale) together with other private entities, SCALES aims to exploit a series of advanced technologies as a starting point for offering new value-added digital services in document exchange. Specifically, SCALES wants to focus on integrating and digitizing the entire order cycle for both companies and public administrations.
The SCALES project is based on the DLT (Distributed Ledger Technologies) technology, which in turn is based on the importance of access to data in a controlled form, in compliance with current regulations, but in order to be able to develop new, affordable services. In addition, the structure of blockchain and DLT technologies makes it possible to integrate control mechanisms that allow the traceability of each operation, an element that we have seen to be fundamental for ensuring the transparency of transactions, especially in the area of Public Administration purchases. The SCALES architecture allows the secure reconciliation of payment – invoice, avoiding the risk of double payment. In the near future, therefore, it will be necessary to estimate the possible applications of this new architecture in our government eprocurement system.
The standards for international interoperability
To effectively support the implementation of projects created within the Recovery Plan (and not only) and achieve digital transition throughout Europe in a way that is profitable, important investments, as we have seen, are essential. Legislation and a set of solid and shared technical standards are also essential, as are cooperation and interoperability. Many bodies are responsible for preparing and coordinating these standards at national, European, and international levels. The standards guarantee, among other things, uniformity, wide diffusion, and high quality service levels, moving precisely in the direction of a European Single Market.
With reference to the topics covered here, it is particularly important to point out the work that the standardization bodies are developing in the field of blockchain and DLT technologies.
For the strategic importance of these technologies, standardization bodies have decided to participate very early in the process and intervene immediately in defining these technologies in order to guide their development, guarantee interoperability, and ensure compliance with standards.
Therefore, for the future, the way forward requires the creation of tools and solutions that can communicate both among themselves and with the existing tools and solutions that are already fully operational. It is no coincidence that interoperability by design is one of the guiding principles of the Three-Year Plan for Information Technology in Public Administration 2020-2022 (Piano triennale per l’Informatica nella Pubblica Amministrazione 2020-2022), together with the principle of cross-border by design.
- AgID – Agency for Digital Italy
- MID – Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitization