The city of Espoo is tapping into a new digital platform to make public procurement processes more transparent and collaborative. A successful pilot could make the city a forerunner globally.
Public procurement is a huge sector globally, but one often criticised as bureaucratic and old-fashioned. This could soon change thanks to ‘Solved’, a digital platform for collaborative project management. The platform was originally developed for cross-border cleantech projects but now Espoo, the second largest city in Finland, is trialling it to help open up the public procurement process.
“We are building a new living district in Espoo and looking for new kinds of smart, sustainable energy solutions for it,” says Jussi Lehtinen, Senior Planning Officer at the city of Espoo. “The digital platform is used to develop these solutions together with various companies and experts from the Solved network and to define specifications for upcoming procurements.”
This is a major step forward from how pre-procurement dialogue between the local government and market players is typically arranged, namely notifications on websites and open discussion evenings. Solved not only moves the process online, but makes it collaborative. Different parties share their ideas and discuss them openly using the same platform.
The next step is to take these discussions into practice and use them to specify goals, requirements and indicators for the actual procurement process.
What is Solved?
The city of Espoo’s main goal for the pilot project is to find new ways to encourage closer cooperation with companies and more active participation in public procurement projects.
“The dialogue between cities and commercial players is not always seamless. Solved and other digital platforms could be used to improve this already in the preparation stage of procurement,” Lehtinen explains. “We do not want the public sector to be viewed as separate from the rest of the world and we strongly support collaborative approaches.”
While this is the first time Solved is used in this capacity, the platform was initially launched in 2012 as an online service for Finnish cleantech expertise hub ‘Cleantech Finland’. Since then Solved has branched off into a cleantech advisory company and the collaboration platform is used to enable experts all over the world to easily get involved in new projects.
“Our experiences with the platform model have been really good. It reduces time obstacles and lowers geographical barriers,” Lehtinen enthuses. “For some people it might be hard to write their ideas on a shared forum, but we have been able to create very open discussion.”
Lehtinen is particularly happy the platform also makes it easier for small and medium companies to participate in the procurement specification process.
“It is if often big companies, not SMEs, that are eager to participate in city-level tenders. But now we have new, smaller companies actively participating in the discussions,” he says.
The idea of piloting the Solved platform in public procurement initially came from regional development agency Helsinki Business Hub (HBH). HBH brought the city of Espoo and Solved together and helped accelerate the project.
“We have participated in agile development projects in the capital region with HBH and they introduced the idea to us,” says Lehtinen. “We always want to try out new tools and improve collaboration.”
It will take a few years before the energy solutions currently discussed on Solved will be carried out in Espoo, but the platform’s reach could be expanded before that. The city is considering using it as the base for a new collaborative procurement concept.
“At first we decided to use the platform only up to the actual tendering process. But now we are considering ways to also include it in that stage,” Lehtinen says. “It is slightly more complicated, there are questions for example about funding, but we are starting a ‘regional lab’ to develop the concept.”
It is all part of Espoo’s increasing focus on digitalisation and the Solved pilot is only the start.
“Digitalisation offers many opportunities to improve public sector services. This is one way to open up the dialogue with different interest groups,” Lehtinen concludes.