eForms are more of the same

I spent some time over the last couple of weeks preparing my electronic procurement slides for some classes at the University of Belgrade and had a chance to look into eForms.

My views about the lack of ambition of the current crop of electronic procurement related rules are not new, particularly in connection with the ESPD and eCertis. The first is still a form dependant on data being manually filled and checked and the second a ‘reference’ tool and not a canonical source of information parties can rely on.

Having said that, the Commission has been doing a lot of work below the regulatory waterline (and sometimes above) to improve the technical side of electronic procurement within the current generation of procurement Directives.

But the fundamental problem is that without changing the regulatory architecture, all that can be done is at the margins of the real problems: data being structured but not dependent on manual inputs from users and with proper APIs to get data silos to talk to one another.

eForms are an attempt to work within the current straightjacket from 2014 and, obviously, the ambition is constrained by the limitations from the current round of Directives. As such, eForms are indeed more of the same in the sense that while they will improve procurement data quality and give it more structure that is an incremental improvement from what I see as a very low (and outdated base). We’re yet to see eForms being used in practice as they will only become mandatory in October 2023, almost a decade after the current round of procurement Directives landed. But, so far what it seems is that eForms will not be identical across all Member States and that shows where the problem lies, at those pesky data silos and ’slightly’ different ways public administrations work. The second limitation is more concerning and that is - once more - an issue with lack of ambition.

Looking at the Irish eForms implementation guidance it would appear that there will be new descriptive mandatory fields that will have to be filled in…manually of course because it seems to be inconceivable to pull the data automatically from the electronic platforms where the procurement procedures are run.