Government procurement officers rejoice! The monstrous spreadsheets, disjointed records, and muddy data lakes draining time, money, and sanity are finally getting binned. How? Through the implementation of a supplier data platform. It’s a perfect time to let your supplier data shine. 

Clean, unified, and trusted supplier data saves money and more to the point, time for the procurement function. Over 300,000 suppliers are known to supply to government (Supplier Registration), but the number is almost certainly higher. Each of these suppliers has probably been asked to register onto various systems to work with government: tendering portals, finance systems, Contracts Finder, Find-a-Tender, and so on. A never-ending game of ‘remember the password’! 

As we move into 2024, this bureaucracy burden is increasingly in focus. With the backdrop of the imminent public procurement reform, a new, digital supplier registration portal for providers to government is on the way (TPP). Progress is also expected on the Matrix project, where eight central government departments – currently running disparate ERP, HR, and finance applications – will come together under a single SaaS ERP system serving 46,000 users (The Register). 

Let’s cut to the chase. The public sector juggles an intricate web of suppliers and vendors. From procuring basic office supplies to undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects, the reliance on external partners is paramount. However, managing this plethora of suppliers is akin to herding cats in a thunderstorm—chaotic, unpredictable, and often resulting in missed opportunities. 

Well, what is supplier data? 

Put simply, supplier data is the information about your suppliers that’s held in your commercial systems. Supplier data in commercial systems is diverse and rich, serving a multitude of analytical purposes. This data encompasses various elements. It starts with basic information such as the company’s name. It includes unique identifiers and commodity codes. More sensitive data, like bank details, are also part of this. Contact details play a significant role, along with registration numbers, which could be either public or system generated. Tax codes, such as VAT numbers, are also important. Additionally, risk scores and financial metrics derived from company accounts are crucial elements of this data set. 

The public sector bureaucracy headache 

Fundamentally, having this data is not enough to ensure efficient and effective procurement. You also need to be able to access, analyse, and share it across different departments and platforms. This is where bureaucracy can become a real obstacle in the public sector. A mismatch between systems and ambition can mean civil servants deliver results, despite bureaucracy, rather than because of it (GGF). Procurement reform is also perceived (fairly or not) to mean more of bureaucracy is on the way, particularly regarding notices (Ashfords LLP).  

We believe that supplier data is a solution to this problem. 

The notice game. The Procurement Act 2023 goes live from October 2024. Under the new regulations, the number of notices required to be published on the government portal across the commercial lifecycle increases significantly to at least 13 for a typical procurement. To service the new noticing requirements, supplier records will need be needed for key data fields like supplier contact addresses, trading styles, and payment data. However, as detailed above, these records exist across multiple systems. In the absence of a fully integrated digital systems landscape with connectors like Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), ensuring that the right system is pulling the right record can easily lead to a manual resource burden.  

Automation is often cited as the solution. Yet spending time to automate a process which moves incorrect information from your Source-to-Contract system to the government noticing system, clearly does not look like a sensible idea. Nor does leaving incorrect information in one system and correcting it elsewhere. So, getting an accurate map of the spread of supplier data across your systems is essential, and so too is doing this from an enterprise/business-wide perspective. 

Inexplicable inconsistencies. Through the government’s new supplier data platform, suppliers to government will provide key details about their company and their eligibility for public contracts once. At the stage of registration, government will assign a unique identifier for the supplier, either an existing unique identifier (e.g. company registration number) or a newly generated identifier if an existing record is unavailable. This ID will be used by suppliers as their badge for government systems.  

Which begs the question, how will you make sure the government identifier for all your suppliers is reflected accurately in your systems? Even if you already have company house number for your suppliers, the newly generated government ID’s will not be in your systems. Most government authorities have thousands of suppliers, often with a ‘long tail’ in their supplier data. In other words, lots of effort to ensure compliance, with no guarantee, soon obsolete outcomes, and for little additional benefit. 

This is where supplier data needs your help. Consider how you can best provide a mechanism of control and governance to deliver consistency across your systems. Ideally, this will be automated and make optimal use of artificial intelligence, but if not, at least a manual approach with checks and balances will help bring out the best in your supplier data. 

Now is the time to make lasting changes and put mechanisms in place, facilitated by digital solutions, to ensure your supplier data transforms from a disabler to an enabler. 

What next 

You must question your current view of supplier data. How can you transform it into an enabler for Procurement Act readiness, and in doing so, enable efficiencies and value-adds across your commercial function? 

At 4C we support many Government agencies, departments, and councils. If you want to have a no obligation discussion and/or want to collaborate, please reach out to Mark Ellis (Partner) or Joe Gibson (Head of Digital Innovation) or check out our website to discover how we can work together.