Interview with Cristiano Cannarsa, CEO of the Italian Centre for Innovation Procurement (CONSIP)
Why is it important to to set up Consip as a competence centre for innovation procurement?
The Italian Public Administration can represent an extraordinary flywheel of innovation for the whole country system, and is able to guarantee to companies a market size to stimulate the continuous search for innovation and creating a significant "demand for innovation".
In the latest European directives, the role of innovation is central, in particular the role of the so-called "Public Procurement of innovative solutions" which, by institutional mandate and statute, fall within the scope of Consip, that naturally has a central role in this process as the central purchasing body (CPB) of the Italian Public Administration. First of all, in terms of the size of the impact on the market: in 2020, over 16 billion euros of purchases by the PA, equal to 1% of GDP, were concluded through Consip instruments, with a 100% increase compared to 2016, as shown in the graphic below.
Consip conveys innovation in Public Procurement through its offer of purchase and negotiation tools, such as framework contracts and framework agreements (Convenzioni/AQ) a Dynamic Purchasing System (SDA) and an electronic marketplace (MEPA).
Innovation for Consip means not only the search for the highest quality and innovativeness of products and services, but also the introduction of a new purchasing logic in the PA (innovative acquisition formulas, such as rental or pay per use) and innovation in processes (use of totally digital tools such as Mepa or Sdapa).
Consip has gained a lot of experience in its twenty years of activity that allowed it to gradually introduce innovative products, services, logic and procedures in Public Procurement: from the introduction of the use of electronic purchasing tools in 2003 to the creation of a real public market for some innovative services (energy performance contracts, facility management, print & copy services, performance contract, Public Private Partnership, Life Cycle Costing methodology, Sustainable and Circular Procurement). A fundamental dimension to measure the concreteness of the solutions made available to the Italian PA is represented by the savings achieved compared to the average prices which records an increase of 27% in 2020 compared to 2016.
Moreover, the company has heterogeneous internal skills (commodity, technological, legal, economic, sustainability, project management), comparable to the market, enabling it to detect innovative products and services. At the same time, the company is committed to sustain Public Authorities in building a relationship with suppliers that assumes the character of a partnership, avoiding the frequent information asymmetries of the customer/supplier relationship, partly thanks to an Open Data Portal for the access to available information.
Thanks to the participation in the European Procure2Innovate project, Consip has also initiated an internal and external dialogue with the Ministry of Economy and Finance together with the main stakeholders in order to seize the opportunities that derive from and are connected to Consip’s role in Innovation procurement.
Despite the role of accelerator that Consip has played and continues to play in procurement, the procurement of innovation still has room for improvement that requires joint action by all stakeholders to support the challenges we are actually facing: the global health crisis and climate change.
What services do you plan to offer public buyers?
As a starting point, Consip offers to public buyers solutions for the procurement of innovation: as mentioned, some of our tools (especially framework contracts and framework agreements) already propose innovative products, services and processes.
A service of coaching and support to accompany Italian Public Authorities, settled from the beginning, is also going in this direction:
- the work of accounting towards Public Authorities in the use of tools, in the most innovative areas of procurement where PAs need more skills often not able to trace internally, especially in terms of the ability to grasp the most innovative aspects of the proposed solutions and to manage contracts by fully exploiting their potential
- specific training on innovation procurement.
The services we have begun to provide mainly concern information and (internal and external) training regarding the themes of innovation procurement and sustainable procurement together with circular procurement. In 2020, a partnership with the National Scholl of Administration (SNA) was consolidated to deepen the themes of sustainable procurement and to introduce issues relating to Innovation Procurement in the courses provided to executives and public officials. Organisational aspects were also taken into account. An internal working group was set up with the aim of assessing the innovative initiatives and defining an internal Innovation action plan.
Finally, Consip also provides a service of information and direct communication to PAs. The monthly newsletter service dedicated to the Program of rationalization of public spending conducted by Consip and financed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance represents one of the most important instrument in this case, with the aim to inform Italian public authorities (around 95.000 procurement offices registered, +20% increase compared to 2016). A service directed to all stakeholders is also available, including citizens in general (press releases and social media that often raise these issues).
What services do you plan to offer SME's?
Our role of "hinge" between PA and businesses means that, while acting in the interest and service of the PA, we turn our attention to the market, to offer more innovative companies, greater market opportunities and a competitive environment. Today there are 155,000 companies that have been awarded tenders or enabled to use the Consip System tools, demonstrating the growing confidence of the market in the opportunities we offer with an increase in numbers of about 108%, compared to 2016. In particular, the electronic marketplace (MEPA) - by its structure - is aimed at constituting a showcase for the most innovative companies, which have the opportunity to qualify as innovative startups and SMEs and provide to Public Authorities innovative products and services.
As for training, we are planning specific training initiatives aimed above all at SMEs and innovative Startups on how to best promote their products and services in the catalog. In-depth studies are underway on how to organize specific training courses for companies through links with the main stakeholders. Furthermore, a specific service design is on the way to make information available on the companies qualified as „Innovative SMEs“ and „Innovative start-ups“. This information will be visible on the next release of the Electronic Marketplace and researchable by public authorities during the selection phase.
With regard to information and communication, a monthly newsletter service also dedicates constant updates to companies on innovation procurement addressed to enterprises (around 136,000 suppliers),
What do you think are the main challenges for PCP and innovation procurement in Italy?
The main challenges concern the ability of the entire system to find answers to complex needs. The challenges that the public sector is facing require systemic responses that catalyse all the skills and human and instrumental resources to work together for purposes of public interest and for the benefit of society as a whole. Among the major challenges, there is no doubt that the current economic crisis aggravated by the pandemic poses urgent needs to be combined with the aim of bringing greater effectiveness and efficiency to public procurement, combining economic, environmental and social impacts benefiting society as a whole.
What is the main message about the benefits of PCP and innovation procurement for Italian public authorities?
Innovation is one of the key factors to counter the challenges of our time. The ecosystem linked to innovation is very dynamic and populated by companies that have heavily invested to seek better solutions, combining care for the environment and good conditions for people. Innovation requires other forms of dialogue and involvement than those commonly used in old procurement processes, not least how to attract existing innovation offers into public procurement procedures, and how to evaluate and detect them. The use of functional requirements and the possibility of evaluating life cycle costs are valid tools to enable innovation to play a leading role in public procurement. On both fronts, Consip has been applying these tools for a long time.
Why is it important for Consip to be part of the Procure2Innovate network?
Thanks to the Procure2Innovate project, Consip has a great opportunity to share common needs and strategies with the project partners, benefiting from different views and national contexts of innovation development. The enormous possibility of contributing, as a network, to support public demand for innovation at European level helps to consolidate the European Union in the leading role to create value for citizens from all Member States and stimulate shared responses to common needs and challenges, having in mind the 2030 Agenda.