| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The BASE Portal was implemented in two distinct phases, which also represented two distinct technological solutions:
- BASE 1 - from August 2008 to December 2011
- BASE 2 - from January 2012 to date.
The implementation of BASE 1 was very eventful at the different levels: design, execution and utilization.
Many difficulties have arisen as a result of the following situations:
- The system hat to be implemented within a short period of time because of the publication of decree orders and the requirement for the effectiveness of contracts concluded by direct award.
- The system architecture was not built in collaboration with the different entities with which it interacts.
- The implemented system is the technological materialization of a reality that is also very recent (the new procurement system), this being the most relevant factor for the difficulties experienced.
A new structure has been built to address an equally new reality.
And, as in any other completely new process, we have learned along the way not only from the mistakes that have been made but also from the feedback from the users and the public at large.
In 2010, the Portal’s managing body decided to develop a new technological solution but this time with the involvement of the main stakeholders from the outset.
To that end, the development of BASE 2 - from its design to its entry into production - was based on a governance model previously defined and coordinated by the managing body.
This fundamental difference from BASE 1 to BASE 2 was crucial for the system to be accepted and successful, mostly in terms of interoperability of the data produced and exchanged between the various instruments that shaped BASE 2. It was, therefore, a much more consensual system among the different operators and users.
Now, a new version of the Portal’s public component (the BASE 2.1) is being prepared, including important improvements in terms of graphics and usability.
A success factor eventually crucial to the system longevity and growth was the team openness to criticism and the acceptance of imperfections as an integral part of the process.
Another success factor was, in our opinion, the fact that the system was based on “open data” models, thus enabling the export of data to Excel files and their exploitation by the different system users.
Besides the direct export made available on the website, the Portal is also connected to the “open data” Government portal (www.dados.gov.pt), which manages the files that gather all the updated information.
This Portal tool is presently used by a wide variety of users, namely universities and research groups, supervision and inspection bodies and, last but not least, by the media that brought to the public procurement system a very tight control over the political assurance of the regularity of financial operations and the correctness of contracts
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The BASE Portal is a system of the Portuguese Public Administration that was developed by the Institute for Construction and Real Estate (InCI), and automatically receives information from the national official journal (Diário da República Eletrónico) and from the seven electronic platforms operating in the Portuguese market.
On the other hand, the BASE Portal is an information source for the State auditing bodies (such as the Inspectorate-General of Finance - IGF, the sectoral inspectorates and the Court of Auditors), the State senior and middle management, the various users and the public in general (namely the media).
The BASE Portal is the central repository of information on public procurement and is the basis for the annual statistical reports to the European Commission in compliance with the reporting obligations provided for in the Public Contracts Code.
A wide variety of public and private entities took part in the development of BASE 2, namely:
-7 electronic procurement platforms (certified in the Portuguese market),
-Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda - INCM (the Portuguese Mint, which is responsible for publishing in the official journal all the notices required by law),
-Inspectorate-General of Finance - IGF,
-Court of Auditors,
-Entidade de Serviços Partilhados da Administração Pública, I.P. - ESPAP (a body of public administration shared services that manages the National Public Purchasing System),
-Agência da Administração Pública - AMA (Administrative Modernisation Agency, which manages the interoperability platform for Public Administration),
-Centro de Gestão da Rede Informática do Governo - CEGER (the management centre for the Government computer network that certifies the security of electronic platforms),
-Instituto Nacional de Estatística – INE, or Statistics Portugal (which produces statistical information at the national level),
-Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil – LNEC (National Laboratory for Civil Engineering, a building research institution).
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
As a rule, public entities don’t have enough own resources to develop applications for more demanding projects and, therefore, the development of the BASE Portal has been outsourced although under the coordination of the Public Administration.
In fact, the development of the system was committed to private partners for its two phases and, in the final solution, consideration was given to the connection to R&D and the selected partner was an institution devoted to innovative and unique projects, with links to universities.
The project has been managed by the InCI from the outset, as this institution had also played a decisive role in the drafting of the Public Contracts Code.
On the one hand, it was possible to develop the project with no burden on the Portuguese State budget, and on the other hand, the adopted solution made unnecessary the use of Community funds.
Therefore, the whole project has been financed by the InCI, since its budget includes own revenues from the regulation of the construction and real estate sectors that were partly allocated to this initiative.
It is thus not unimportant the fact that the BASE Portal has a subsystem dedicated to data from public procurement procedures relating to public works contracts (the Observatório de Obras Públicas – OOP – or Public Works Observatory).
This system was crucial in changing the contracting entities’ behaviour as regards public works contracts.
The traditional occurrence of differences in values, works and deadlines during the execution stage was so frequent that the ordinary citizen envisaged this sector as a typical example of public fund mismanagement by the State.
Now that this registration subsystem is in operation and the main elements of public works contracts concluded and their respective amendments (if any) as regards the actually implemented prices, works and dates are broadly publicized, there is a retraction in assuming differences that may be regarded as excessive.
That publicity had a disciplinary impact on contracting entities from the moment they felt the influence of public scrutiny in their actions related to this type of contracts.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Broadly speaking, the main advantages of implementing an electronic public procurement system as the BASE Portal are as follows:
At the level of contract formation (pre-contractual phase):
-Use of technological means instead of data processing handbooks;
-Elimination of paper, with an immediate impact on the environment;
-Minimisation of the occurrence of clerical errors;
-Interoperability between distinct technological systems;
-Greater effectiveness, efficiency and quality in procurement procedures.
At the level of the contract itself:
-Transparency in the contracts concluded by the State;
-Centralization of information on public contracts in a single tool.
At the level of contract performance:
-Greater control over payments;
-Greater control over contractual changes (more or less work than expected, reduction or extension of contracts).
At the level of reporting obligations
-Improved data quality;
-Use of technological means instead of data processing handbooks;
-Minimisation of the occurrence of clerical errors;
-Greater effectiveness, efficiency and quality in analysis and reporting processes.
At the level of accountability
-State accountability tool;
-Higher accountability by the State agents.
At the level of strategic management
-Assurance of data reliability;
-Strategic analysis of procedures and contracts;
-Control over public expenditure;
Summing up, one could say that this tool enables any citizen/taxpayer to exercise his right of citizenship on an informed basis. It even enables any citizen/voter to analyse on an individual basis the conduct of the different governments in terms of political strategic options.
The Portuguese official portal for public contracts (BASE Portal) is therefore a very useful and necessary tool for any country and is undoubtedly a system that can be exported to anywhere in the world.
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
In order to monitor the implementation of the system and assess the developed activities, an annual report is drafted on public procurement in Portugal, having as its only source the data entered into the information system of the BASE Portal.
Thanks to that annual report, it is possible to analyze the purchasing processes and their implementation as well as assess the evolution of the information registration in the system.
Whenever any data registration shows a different behaviour from what should be expected, the contracting entities shall receive circular letters that work both as a guiding tool and a warning system concerning less correct aspects, compliance with legal deadlines or fundamental steps of the purchasing process.
Regular workshops are also organized with contracting entities, which enable not only to dispel any doubts and provide guidance on the information registration process and the system operation, but also and above all provide the system managing body (InCI) with feedback on the services provided as a result of the system becoming operational.
Finally, there is a governance model associated to the system management, consisting of several levels of competences. This model monitors the development of the BASE Portal and allows for the monitoring of the system in terms of strategic development, as it incorporates the input from the different institutions that play an active role within the public procurement system in Portugal.
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The main problems encountered throughout the development of the system can be grouped into two types according to their nature:
- Resistance to change;
- Technical conditions of the process.
The first group includes the initial difficulties for the contracting entities to accept that all the contracts would be publicly available on a web Portal.
This is a substantial change with respect to the time before the Portal was created, when there was no way for the economic operators to be unrestrictedly informed about State purchasing and for the citizens in general to be able to monitor the execution of expenditure to which they contribute with their tax money.
In fact, during the first years of operation of the system, the contracting entities have sent lots of communications invoking difficulties in filling in the forms, raising doubts as to the reasonableness of the procedures and questioning the legal legitimacy of the system.
As regards the second group, i.e. the technical conditions of the process, it was very difficult to perform tests with all the stakeholders, because the level of linkage and automatism between entities made full testing unaffordable. This situation, in turn, involved some risk when deploying new features.
It should also be noted that the processes of data migration between distinct technological solutions were quite complex and time-consuming because it was necessary to substantially change the model of the data that should migrate to the BASE Portal.