At the recent PEPPOL conference in Rome I tweeted, in a fit of mischief and ennui, that the discussion seemed to me to be at least 10 years behind the curve. All it needed was a blinding flash of light and Michael J Fox climbing out of a DeLorean to prove that we really were going back to the future.

Purchasing Insight logoOn one level my view is influenced by the fact that at the beginning of the PEPPOL process there were two successful (pre-existing) e-procurement programmes in European Governments, in Norway and Scotland.  At the end of the process there are still only the same two successful e-procurement programmes in European Government as well as the e-invoicing model introduced in Denmark and the growth of Value Wales

The issues at the conference were addressed by Scotland and Norway 10 years ago and I was depressed that the same issues dominated the agenda and presentations. A lot of good work has been done. Yet PEPPOL seems to me to be a species of wheel reinvention by technologists which has resulted in the rims being hexagonal instead of round – but, hey, they’re e-wheels, right?

There is more to this than a mischievous impulse to utter a snarky tweet.

It has always seemed to me that if you take a text which is riddled with “e” this and “e” that, the first thing to do is to strip out all of the “e”s.  If it then looks like nonsense, it will not be improved by putting the “e”s back. More than a decade after the dot.com boom one hopes people would be less credulous but, alas, marketing budgets are long and memories are short.

Turning this around, e-business is really about business, e-government is really about government and e-procurement is really about procurement.

Discussion of e-business repeatedly comes back to the “e” at the expense of the “business” and generally neither are well understood by policymakers. The debates around procurement in the public sector seem always to come back to sourcing and transactional purchasing. The discussions in e-procurement seem interminably to revolve around e-sourcing, P2P and e-invoicing and remain focused on “savings” rather than transformational benefits.

The fundamental issue avoided is the proper definition of “Procurement” as something more than merely buying things.  Procurement is too important to be left to buyers. Procurement is, or should be, at the heart of delivery of corporate strategy and encompasses everything from corporate planning and market analysis to understanding and working with the whole supply chain. This may include ensuring that there is sufficient liquidity in the supply chain to create and maintain sufficient capability to deliver strategic outcomes.

e-procurement is about the tools required to support and enhance the conduct of all aspects of procurement activity. For at least 10 years this activity and the commercial relationships between the participants, including the banks, have had the capability of being richly enhanced by the ubiquitous interconnectivity of the internet.

Endless debates about structured electronic documents entirely miss the scale and nature of the transformational opportunities available.

And that is why the current debate is at least ten years behind the curve.

Ian can be found on twitter @IanBurdon