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Building better data for public sector procurement


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There are several data measures that could strengthen the hand of procurement pros, writes Stuart Swindell, risk and compliance strategy director at Dun & Bradstreet

Procurement has always been a complex business for the public sector and it is becoming increasingly so – and this is fueling a sense that government needs better data to provide a clearer view of the factors that influence buying decisions.

This formed the subject of a recent UKA Live discussion in which we brought together a handful of public sector officials: Al Collier, director of procurement at Norfolk County Council, Steve Balding, programme director for the commercial systems and data strategy in the Department for Health and Social Care, Dave Jackson, director of business engagement at the Police Digital Service, and Mohammed Hans, solicitor and procurement advisor at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

It threw a light on the underlying pressures on the procurement community, with the recent surge in inflation coming top on the list of factors changing the way services are consumed – such as the move towards digital offerings ‘as a service’ in the cloud. Also discussed were the long term pressures of moving towards net zero, ensuring the resilience of energy and food supply chains, and meeting the needs of an ageing population.

There is a fractured landscape in procurement, with a range of frameworks available for the public sector, often covering shared ground. Different systems are used and there is no consistent approach to the key data. This makes it difficult for procurement professionals and analysts to get a clear view of the different options, or to fully understand factors that are relevant to their organisations’ policies and regulations; and it is a barrier to achieving more collaborative procurement.

Overall, there is a widespread need to be able to access good quality data quickly for a central version of the truth.

Excel not enough

As Steve Balding put it: “If 200-300 heads of procurement want to work with each other strategically an Excel spreadsheet can’t do it. We have to provide the right platform to easily get data in so everybody can act on it. It’s so you consolidate the data where you can and use the business intelligence from it.”

Traditionally, there have been issues caused by the big differences between legacy systems in which relevant data is held, with a lack of common structure, identifiers and features making it hard to build a clear picture, even within individual organisations. There have been no widely applied standards for procurement data, which has made the landscape even more complex.

This has fuelled recent sentiment in favour of a central register of suppliers to the public sector, managed by a central government agency to be used by all organisations, and which would include several key features.

These features would include indicators to prevent any uncertainty about the company provenance, its previous deals, and notably a unique company identification number on the central register that could be used for all of its dealings with the public sector. To this could be added contract notice numbers for a firm’s previous public sector business, and taken further to include data on financial solvency, ownership, and whether a supplier or any of its directors had ever been fined or sanctioned in some way, to strengthen an assessment of risk.

Over time other factors would help to meet new priorities, such as data on a company’s carbon emissions and other environmental, social or governance factors, shipping insights, as well visibility into the company's own tiers of suppliers. These data points could help organisations assess any risk in dealing with a specific company before they stop the show.

Rating suppliers

There could also be scope for a rating system based on buyers’ experiences with suppliers. The argument in favour is that it would encourage all vendors to raise their game in the quest to obtain high scores; against is the fact that those ratings could be very subjective and that it opens the door for litigation when a supplier with a powerful legal team objects to its rating.

While the ratings idea remains open to question, overall such factors would help a public sector body proactively assess a range of issues before contract and during the relationship with a supplier. Not only could this data be used for individual procurements, but it would enable agencies to build a strategic approach to make cost efficiencies and mitigate different types of risk.

It could also contribute to the creation of a central dashboard template, which would provide the basis for a standard reporting set for aggregating then analysing the data. This would help to make reporting on procurement part of the regular skillset within public authorities, meaning analysts with more specific skills could focus on more challenging issues and work more efficiently.

Data aggregation and analysis could also take place at a central level, providing national agencies with a clearer picture of local level procurement to feed into their strategic planning.

Other significant factors emerged from the discussion:

  • that more high quality open data would provide a major benefit for local government;
  • one of the major challenges is in establishing the beneficial owners of many companies;
  • that the Procurement Bill, currently going through Parliament, has the potential to provide significant reforms but does not address all of the data issues;
  • and that there are initiatives in the police sector, on which data points should be captured centrally, and in the NHS for the limited sharing of commercial data.

The key message in all this is the need for more reliable information within the procurement process, which is available and easily accessible to benefit all public sector agencies. It feels like it is becoming more possible to bring relevant data together, and the next step is to make it part of the day-to-day process for public sector vendors and procurement teams alike.

Company contribution

Dun & Bradstreet is a leading provider of data and analytics. The Dun & Bradstreet Data Cloud fuels solutions and delivers insights that empower public bodies to improve operations, mitigate risk and transform supply chain health with data.

The Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S® Number is a unique business identifier, helping agencies maintain up-to-date and timely information on hundreds of millions of global businesses. Dun & Bradstreet can help public bodies to consolidate, enhance and better understand data on suppliers - whether that be across systems or in a more centralised approach.

Ultimately, Dun & Bradstreet data can help the public sector to identify trustworthy suppliers, monitor and protect the resilience of their supply chains, evaluate sustainability, carry out due diligence and discover hidden threats in their dealings with suppliers.

To find out more about Dun & Bradstreet visit our website or email [email protected].

If you would like a complimentary trial of our Risk Analytics solution to discover how we can help you to intelligently manage supply chain risk, please request one by clicking here.

You can view the full UKA Live discussion on transforming procurement with data below:  



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