Procurement of Innovation platform

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29 August 2019

Interview with Floris den Boer, senior advisor at PIANOo

PIANOo has been working on PCP and innovation procurement for some years. When were you established as the national expertise centre on public procurement?

From 2009, PIANOo worked in close cooperation with the Inkoop Innovatie Urgent (Innovation Procurement Urgent) programme of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The earlier focus on the public sector as a first buyer of innovation was broadened during this to the entire procurement process, from the strategy development of public needs to the scaling up of pilots. In 2016, PIANOo also became responsible for the continuation of this programme. The innovation procurement programme has worked since 2016 in close cooperation with the sustainable procurement programme of PIANOo.

In 1999 the Ministry of Economic Affairs published a discussion paper on public procurement. The main message of that paper was that compliance with the procurement directives had to increase and that the Dutch government should seek to achieve costs savings through the strategic use of public procurement. This paper also mentioned for the first time the need for a public procurement competence centre. As a response to the discussion paper, the Minister composed an action plan on public procurement. The goals of that plan were: more innovative, more European and more electronic procurement. To do so, the plan set out actions to stimulate networks of public procurers, promote benchmarking between contracting authorities, advise contracting authorities and train them in the strategic use of public procurement. A new platform called ‘Professional procurement and tendering’ (PIA) was establishment and was responsible for the implementation of the Action Plan.

The PIA-platform continued until the end of 2005, and by means of a so-called ‘Institution Decree’ on 7 October 2005, the organisation PIANOo was established. PIANOo was the institutionalised continuation of PIA. The mission of PIANOo was to promote and to facilitate the development of knowledge and expertise on procurement in all contracting authorities, so they were able to achieve the most efficient and effective outcome of procurement themselves. PIANOo initially had two roles: firstly, to act as a knowledge centre that collects and disseminates existing and new insights on public procurement, and secondly, a competence network of procurement practitioners and other stakeholders that facilitates knowledge exchange and networking. In 2017, PIANOo became part of RVO – the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

Since PIANOo started working on PCP and innovation procurement, have you seen any change in the mentality of public buyers?

PIANOo sees great enthusiasm among public procurers, internal clients and innovation managers to embrace the potential of innovation procurement. Conferences on innovation procurement and innovation procurement workshops organised by PIANOo are well visited. Known cases of innovation procurement at PIANOo are growing. Figures show that public procurers indicate a significant portion of their procurements as innovation procurement (7,7%). Among those, we also see a broader interest in the topic from multiple perspectives. Currently, the strategic and organisational implications of innovation procurement are gaining more traction. Next to that, we see that innovation procurement is becoming more a means than a goal in itself for contracting authorities. Strategic goals in the public sector - such as sustainability, digitalisation and cost reduction - are driving the use of innovation procurement.

What do you think are the main barriers for procurers to start a PCP or an innovation procurement process?

In our opinion, there are three main barriers for innovation procurement. First, contracting authorities need to define more clear innovation targets for themselves such as reduced CO2-emissions, more efficient material use, or reduced costs. Second, it is not always rational for contracting authorities to bear the full risks and R&D costs of an innovation procurement, and instead they prefer to wait until innovations are proven elsewhere. Third, contracting authorities do not always see the market as the most suitable partner to develop and deliver innovative solutions for their innovation needs. In our opinion, these barriers can be lowered by improving trust and lowering risk and cost sharing between the contracting authorities and the business sector. We also see room for improvement in the tacit or experiential knowledge among all public stakeholders involved in the form of learning by doing.

How do PCP and innovation procurement benefit SMEs?

PCP and PPI benefit SMEs by creating new market opportunities and by improving the knowledge of the private sector on the public need. At PIANOo we support contracting authorities that specifically target SMEs, through the innovation procurement ‘challenges’ and the startup residence programme. Of course, these are (often) not exclusively for SMEs. Therefore, we also raise awareness of how to lower barriers to entry for SMEs in all types of procurement. A very nice example of how contracting authorities lower these barriers can be found in the Institute for Safety (IFV). They were looking for an innovative solution to measure the moisture content of woodlands, shrubs and other forms of vegetation in the Netherlands based on satellite data. In this procurement, not only the large ICT companies could submit their bid, but also the smaller niche players. One of these niche players eventually won the procurement.

How do you support procurers and companies?

Our programme has three spearheads to support contracting authorities.
1. Learn, connect and project support: The innovation procurement programme informs contracting authorities on the potential of innovation procurement and various innovation procurement strategies by organising workshops, conferences and supporting peer-to-peer learning. We also provide one-on-one advice on specific innovation procurement projects.
2. Knowledge database: We manage and maintain a knowledge database on innovation procurement on the and In this knowledge database we provide a wide range of resources such as step-by-step guides, practical examples and background information.
3. Stimulate (international) partnerships: The innovation procurement programme maintains a strong partnership with the various national initiatives that support or benefit from the potential of innovation procurement and stimulate network development between contracting authorities.

PIANOo does not support companies specifically. However, our knowledge database is often used by companies. In addition, the consultants working for contracting authorities often use the information provided by PIANOo. Furthermore, occasionally we organise meetups for contracting authorities and companies to learn from each other’s motivations and to improve communication and trust.

What are the goals of the Netherlands in terms of innovation procurement in the next years?

The programme is currently being evaluated, so our new goals might be defined in the coming months. Our current ambition is to support a paradigm shift. Innovation procurement is not the sole responsibility of the procurement professional, but of the entire organisation. This procurement professional has a large responsibility in the sound design of the innovation procurement process. However, for identification of needs that might require innovation, providing room for experimentation and ensuring the upscaling of innovation procurement results, the innovation manager, the asset manager and the policymaker also play an important role.

Being a well-established competence centre with a lot of expertise on the topic, why is it important for PIANOo to be part of the Procure2Innovate Network?

For PIANOo it is important to participate in the Procure2Innovate Network to discuss barriers and solutions on innovation procurement with peers (both the existing and new competence centres), to get inspired by new international approaches, examples and research and make these insights available for Dutch contracting authorities. We also want to support Dutch contracting authorities to find their European peers with similar innovation needs and experiences on innovation procurement, provide a platform for their experiences and help them in finding EU-funding.