eBF 2016 reports
Exhibiting with Heart and Soul: eBF has begun!
This article will be quite unusual. It is written by a layman, who the organizers of the 12th annual international eBF conference have asked to look at what’s going on around him and offer an independent and maybe slightly fresh insight, which it undoubtedly will be. If you're in another field and just getting acquainted with the world of eAuctions then come with me and let’s try and get to the bottom of it.
To find out who the people who do electronic auctions and procurement are, I started by braving the frozen Ostrava evening to attend a vernissage of their artistic creations. Without a shadow of a doubt it was the right decision, and now I'll tell you why.
I know it might seem superficial, but from top managers, directors and a wide range of specialists in the corporate and public sector, one might anticipate only a lot of hard-headedness and professional expertise. It is said that they are from a different planet.
However, as the wise man knows, the opposite is true. The heart and soul that people put into everything they do is there to be seen, and it’s true in life, as in art. Those who put their heart and soul into their business do the same in their art, wanting to do the best for themselves and those around them.
And so, on the evening before a professional procurement conference, I found myself standing in an exhibition space admiring upwards of thirty works, among which were paintings, photographs, jewellery and ceramics in the style of Modigliani.
Their creators are men and women of all ages working in a variety of fields from all corners of our republic, and even some from abroad. Thanks to what emanates from their work, it can be said that mankind is the deserving ruler of our planet. Why? Mainly because our creativity and ingenuity know no bounds.
I’ll give you one example. Can you imagine what Andrzej Kulbiński’s wife said when he dragged home an old pig-trough which his colleagues had presented him to get his creative juices flowing? If you guessed that this didn’t result in cries of joy, then you’re on the right path.
However, tonight she’s sure to be proud of her husband, who from this humble pig-trough has created a beautifully handcrafted pair of chairs and a table, where they can happily sit and watch the world go by all day. I just couldn’t help staring at this wonderful piece, which wouldn’t be out of place at an exhibition of contemporary design.
I don’t know about you, but for me it's great when someone can create something and inspire others not to be afraid to do the same. This goes for all those with the courage to take their wares to the market that was the Tuesday night exhibition Together II, the follow-up to last year's brilliant premiere.
It was a great experience to be there, and a very pleasant unofficial start to the three-day conference, which will take place in the centre of Ostrava. The curiosity of passers-by is likely to be aroused in the next few days, so I’ll stop by again to watch and soak up the atmosphere.
I look forward to seeing how it goes and whether the programme itself will make a similarly profound impression on me!
Openness: In Ostrava issues of procurement and tenders are addressed clearly and without jargon
It has to be said: Ostrava has experienced another extraordinary day, or at least in the part of it which is the international eBF conference. Maybe it is better described as “procurement festival”, which after the cultural prelude of the vernissage on Tuesday evening, was followed by its first full day on Wednesday. Let’s take a closer look from the viewpoint of an outsider.
There’s probably no doubt such an event should begin with a welcoming speech. It was made by Milan Kaplan, the “spiritual father” of the event, and one of his sentences was: “We look forward to it all year, and also to each other.” These concise words are supported by the attendance of 420 guests in the five conference spaces.
The theme is clear: Procurement and tenders with the support of electronic platforms in hundreds of practical forms and contexts. As for the structure, (not only) a layman will appreciate the division of presentations into two major blocks: The public sector and the private sector, with the former occupying the main congress hall on this first day and the latter occupying the four smaller spaces, with the roles being reversed the next day.
The biggest space logically attracted the greatest number of delegates, which led the host to joke, “There are far too many here. There are other venues to go to!” Eventually everybody found a place. It was full everywhere, which is I bet why the number of conference spaces had increased from four to five.
Right from the word go it could be seen that the programme was gathering momentum, the breaks were just right, and a person could only regret that they couldn’t go to everything they were interested in. Fortunately, there would be a second day, which brings a certain peace of mind.
Even with serious stuff we can take it easy
Something which permeates eBF is undoubtedly its easy-going atmosphere, which is why most participants keep coming back.
If things occasionally fall behind schedule a little, it’s only because the hosts are being receptive and don’t want to rudely cut off an engaging contribution. The next speaker might lose a little bit of their time, but nobody minds too much. This is of course all helped along with a smile and friendly understanding.
Because it is an international event, there are Czech/English and Czech/Polish interpreters permanently in place. Another welcome feature is that some of the presentations include two speakers working together on stage. Sometimes it’s simply true that two heads are better than one, especially when sharing practical experience.
What can anybody really achieve?
Whether you speak to a member the audience, one of the speakers, or one of the organisers, everyone will say almost the same thing. Everybody, including “big guns” from both the public and private sectors, says that they enjoy being here and they are glad that they can openly say what they normally do not.
Given what is spoken about at eBF, it seems that buying and selling anything anywhere is a kind of game in which one tries to outwit the other. Just like contracting authorities, bidders also want what is best for themselves. Every strategy has its own strengths, but few avoid mistakes.
Sometimes quite pertinent messages also emerged from the debates, such as that from Martin Wiederman: "Never judge those with whom you do business." As an experienced matador, he immediately added that reality is often absurd and you can calmly judge even those with whom you have done most of your business for many years.
Clearly, even eAuctions are not going to bring complete redemption, but they will bring the market to heel if you want to behave transparently and efficiently, which is many times more important than the business itself, as the Investment Department could tell you. Whether we like it or not, we live in a time when technology is more trusted than people.
This was wittily captured by the speaker Jaroslav Lexa: "In public procurement you’ve always got one foot in jail." They know about walking on thin ice in the hospital which needed to buy a new ultrasound machine, in the office building which needed the old roof repairing, and in the ministry where they were hunting for an office cleaning service.
As many people mentioned, it’s not always possible to get clear criteria and guidelines, so on the first day there was already a huge amount of knowledge which was worth sharing and left people inspired. With a broader message for the finale of the main programme came the Head of Innovation and Electronic Procurement at the Directorate General of the European Commission, Mr Nikita Stampa, who presented a vision of a unified system of certification for participation in public procurement across all EU countries. However, he certainly wasn’t the only one on Wednesday who offered the proverbial Holy Grail…
Courage and art (again) are the winners
The first day of this “Procurement Festival” concluded with a cultural follow-up to the previous evening’s art. Along with the presentation of the Fair Sourcing Awards to successful figures in the e-enabling of procurement and tenders, there was again an artistic element, and again it was well worth it. It could just have easily been a prestigious music awards show, for on stage we were entertained with guitarists, a vocalist and even an operatic aria, all performed by participants in the conference and setting the bar very high, so much so that one wonders whether everyone who works in this business has a bold artistic heart.
And what came next? Whatever someone couldn’t find an opportunity to discuss with someone during a hectic day in the conference rooms could be revisited in the evening, but this time without a microphone. And so we’ll leave it till next time…
Fair and friendly Ostrava bids farewell. Let’s do it again next year!
Ostrava 10. – 11.11.2016
The second day of a conference can begin in many ways; peacefully or even with a bit of sport. Nobody is surprised what goes on at eBF. And so a small team of volunteers gathered on Thursday morning with running guru Malcolm, who took us on a running tour of Ostrava City centre. Thus some of us started the Thursday of the procurement festival with a refreshing warm-up.
It’s fair to say that the sporting spirit continued into the conference, because the day’s proceedings on the main stage began with the first speaker Jan Vašek who said, among other things, "We must keep running faster just to stay in place." This certainly wasn’t a comment on the performance of his colleagues, but more an expression of the current situation in procurement.
Anyway, what used to be enough is no longer, so everybody, just as on the previous day, dived straight into the presentations, discussions and sharing of experience which they had brought from their professional lives. Everybody knows the basics, but they want something more, and this is what eBF can deliver.
Buying nothing saves the most
It often happens with events that you look forward to for a long time that when they have finished you realise you haven’t learnt anything. There is no longer anything new. In Ostrava the exact opposite is the case and people come from all corners of the country and even from abroad because they will get real, useful answers to their questions.
Many specialists will quite frankly admit that as the use of electronic procurement tools in either the public or corporate sector is not taught in schools this makes the conference worthwhile. "Participation in the conference is very rewarding. Currently you cannot learn about public procurement other than in practice," said Daša Paláková from the Slovak Interior Ministry.
Of course, just like on the first day there are also a few pithy aphorisms and analogies in the air, such as, "Buying nothing saves the most" and "Just follow the rules in a company and you’re sure to be fired in a week." These are the things that the audience appreciates and will convince you never to come to Ostrava wearing a starched collar.
It seems to be important for the vast majority of speakers, whether talking about errors in procurement or multicriteria evaluation, to present the topic fairly and amiably. This approach pays dividends and is reciprocated, because the de facto discussion format of the conference allows participants to interject with questions and the speakers take it as an essential part of their "show".
What was missing? A magic watch…
The above might suggest that Thursday was just about balancing and evaluation. Yet very often we heard words about something other than "just" the professional side of things.
"It's the approach of the organizers, who featured music and art in the event, which I appreciate. Even when talking about processes, technology and procurement, we are still people. It is important to remember that business is mainly about people who have their passions and hobbies. For me it is amazing," commented the Austrian guest Bertrand Maltaverne.
Along with the aforementioned positives, there were also a number of criticisms and suggestions for further development of the sector. "I feel a little disappointed that today’s e-enabling market doesn’t offer quite what we need. We don’t want anything on paper, we want everything done electronically and efficiently, but the development of the platforms isn’t fast enough," said Zdeněk Pytlíček on what the field could offer.
As is often the case, the second day of the conference brought many long goodbyes, but also a remarkable chance to go on a guided tour of Ostrava and to an exhibition at the city’s art gallery. Indeed, without its cultural and artistic inspiration, eBF wouldn’t be what it is.
Even before everything finished with Friday’s round-table long-breakfast networking meeting, there was also the question of what is the essence of the participant-eBF relationship. "I love eBF. Private sector procurers meet and inspire their counterparts from the public sector and vice-versa. All I missed was a magic watch to take me back in time to another presentation," said Marcela Turčanová, with a smile.
In short, whoever wants to learn about the e-enabling of buying and selling as a practical rather than as a purely theoretical proposition should mark this procurement festival in their diary, in bold. It’s best to do it a year in advance: Make a date with Ostrava.