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Electronic Public Procurement in Rome (Part I – CEN BII)

From 2nd to 4th of October, the e-Procurement community in Europe met in Rome. The CEN BII3 Workshop had its third face-to-face meeting hosted by the Associazione Bancaria Italiana in the centric Piazza de Gesù, and on Thursday and Friday there was a meeting of the OpenPEPPOL AISBL community in Consip facilities.

Visiting Rome is always a pleasure. The weather, the food and friendliness of the italians are incentives to be well disposed to do the trip. I went to Rome on Tuesday to attend the CEN BII3 plenary meeting. There had been a previous CEN BII architecture meeting on Monday I attended by teleconference where discussions on the concept of Core started. The nice thing about BII is that it is evolutionary, and the people working there is trying to be pragmatic to find implementable solutions on one hand, and applying latest technologies to resolve issues raised by implementors in another.

The BII is in its third Workshop, but this is not about another initiative started from the ground, but a refinement work on what was previously delivered in BII1 and BII2. The knowledge on public procurement business processes and document models is growing as the deployment of heterogeneous solutions based on BII deliverables (PEPPOL, ePRIOR, DIFI EHF, ESV Svefaktura among others) has fed back the workshop with new requirements and issues that, as a consequence, derive on better quality standards for all.

I would say that today, if you are looking for the deployment of electronic public procurement, you must look at CEN BII specifications. And I am not the only one with this opinion. The proposal of new Directive on eInvoicing for public procurement says:

“The European standard for the semantic data model of the core electronic invoice should build on existing specifications, including in particular those developed by European or international organisations such as CEN (CWA 16356 and CWA 16562), ISO (Financial Invoice based on the ISO 20022 methodology), and UN/CEFACT (CII v. 2.0).”

Where CWA 16562 is the CEN BII Workshop Agreement in Post-Award. And the more relevant fact is that regarding the specifications referred in the draft Directive, the only one that covers the whole public procurement end to end is the CEN BII, being the other ones basically focused on the electronic invoice.

Let me explain you my experience the first two days on the CEN BII meeting.

CEN BII Meeting

As I understood during the days I was there, I missed one of the most important presentations of the CEN BII meeting. There was a strike on public transport in Rome so I arrived late and walking from Termini Station to Piazza de Gesù and I was not able to listen to Mauricio Lenzerini from the University of La Sapienza, who made (as everyone told me) a master class on Ontology: Description of complex concepts such as description logic, reasoning or inferences were explained using simple and funny examples. The Ontology topic is gaining interest in CEN BII and one of the main focus of the Pre-Award team is trying to see whether the creation of an Ontology for the Public Procurement can help solving the problems and the alignment of the different communities dealing with the transition from paper to electronic public procurement.

I arrived when the group had already split in two parallel tracks, one for pre-award and the other for post-award. I joined the post-award group were Siw Midtgård from Edisys was explaining the Punch-out business process. This is a common business process for purchasing goods, combination of a web purchasing platform with the exchange of confirmation electronic documents. After the discussion on that process, there was a common lunch break and, after lunch, I decided to jump to the pre-award track.

The topic in pre-award was ontologies. There was a presentation from Enric Staromiejski from Everis I found interesting as I missed the one in the morning. Unfortunatelly, Enric was not in Rome, and due to teleconference problems, he was not able to present his powerpoint himself, Giovanni Paolo Sellitto from AVCP took the lead. The presentation had different parts: First of all there was an explanation of ontology and their main concepts. This was followed by describing the benefits of using and ontology and the final part was focused on starting a discussion on whether the pre-award team should start this work or not, and how. The summary of the ontology discussion, as far as I understood, is to start working with the ontology on the Notification phase of electronic public procurement. Most of the work done in CEN BII1 and CEN BII2 are still valuable pieces of information and knowledge that can easily feed the ontology itself. I think doctor Fred van Bloomestein adviced me that Veit Jahns from the University of Duisburg-Essen already had started an exercise of creating an ontology based on the contents of the BII2 work. Agreement was reached in this sense and work on the ontology for electronic Notification should start in CEN BII pre-award team.

After this presentation, Kornelis Drijfhout from Pianoo made a presentation on his findings and requirement for alignment between the deliverables of CEN BII2, basically those from the eNotification and eTendering groups. As these groups are now together, it should be easy to make such alignment. The same concepts are shared between a notification message and a tendering message, so the names of the concepts must be the same. The structure of both information requirements should also be similarly defined in order to avoid the need for understanding two different models relating to the same contents.

The meeting ended up and the Associazione Bancaria Italiana, our host, invited the CEN BII members to dinner. It was a wonderful dinner.

The second day, the team split in the same two tracks during the morning sessions. I attended the post-award meeting as the discussion there was about the payment process, and the need to connect the supply chain with the financial chain. There was a good presentation from Antonella Caressa from Consip, explaining the scope of the work to be developed: The payment initiation and reconciliation as the first scope, and the pre-payment as a secondary scope to be further analyzed in detail in BII profiles. She requested the development of a guideline on how to carry out payment initiation from CEN BII and how to reconcile payments, and give advice on how BII relates to existing CGI and SEPA rules.

After that first presentation, Massimo Battistella from AITI explained the need for standardization. The SEPA standards suit perfectly the financial chain and the inter-bank needs, but there is a need for standardizing the communication with the end users to resolve issues such as reconciling multiple payments against a single invoice or recurring invoices/payments with the same total amount.

To finalize the payment topic, Cristian Falasca from the Consorzio CBI explained the ISO20022 initiatives and their usage as interbank messages.

Martin Forsberg from Ecru continued the post-award session bringing up the concept of “Core” again, as a continuation of the architecture team meeting. There was a discussion on the primary and secondary business processes, the usage of goals to drive the inclusion or exclusion of information requirements in the core. I think an initial consensus and common knowledge was achieved by that discussion, and this will be written down in the appropriate architecture team deliverable. It was agreed to start with the approach of the core, capturing goals and requirements in new profiles, and to do the same exercise in the Invoice profile, even if this profile should not have major changes.

Martin did also a presentation of the Statements of  Conformance used in OpenPEPPOL in order to identify the differences (extensions and restrictions) applied on the OpenPEPPOL BIS when customizing CEN BII profiles. CEN BII2 defined this methodology to identify the major differences for a new customization of the CEN BII profiles. This is a really effective way to understand the differences that exist between both the standard and the implementation, and they are quite few in this case, and allow for interoperability between different communities implementing CEN BII in a slightly different manner.

Last presentation was made by Cécile Guasch working in ePrior for the European Commission. Cécli explained that they have been using the CEN BII profiles deeply in the deployment of the post-award and pre-award part of their Open ePrior software, and the whole presentation was about the benefits they found and the main problems they encountered during their work. In the post-award there were less issues as these profiles are more mature, in the sense they have already been adopted in many national-wide implementations. Regarding pre-award, my surprise was that, even there were some issues, the number of problems was not that large, and for most of the issues, Open ePrior implementors were able to come up with a solution. The feedback from Cécile is very valuable for the follow-up work of the CEN BII, and basically for the work to be developed (ontologies included) in the pre-award track.

After lunch, the closing plenary started.

Antonio Conte, from DG Enterprise and Industry, explained the recent developments in Public Procurement and electronic Invoicing in Europe. He elaborated on the political context and the initiatives in the EU.  He also explained the European Multi-stakeholder Forum on Electronic Invoicing works and achievements and the good participation of the Member States through the National Fora. Antonio presented the goals and objective of the Directive on eInvoicing in Public Procurement, where one of the key elements is the new European Norm (EN) to be developed within the CEN. The purpose of this new EN is to oblige buyers to accept EN compliant electronic invoices. The idea is not to replace existing solutions (national systems can continue to be used) but to create a new EN based on existing specifications already developed by CEN and UN/CEFACT and considering the feedback and experiences from existing systems.

Following Antonio, Pieter Potgeiser as the chair of the eBusiness Coordination Group in CEN, explained the differences between a CEN Workshop Agreement and a CEN European Norm. He also explained the group the activities that the eBusiness Coordination Group will have in the CEN, basically saying this is an advisory group issuing strategic advice and recommendations to CEN eBusiness workshops.

As usual, the closing plenary had remarks from the different team leaders. Didier Hardy from the Official Journal, explained the achievements of the eNotification team and the Yellow Box project that has to lead a new and revolutionary way of communicating the business opportunities in Europe via exchange of notification metadata. Veit Jahns summarized the work for the eCatalogue team, specially regarding the new Guidelines on usage of Classification systems and the profile on pre-award catalogue. Specially interesting the parallelism Veit highlighted between the work done in BII to provide requirements to the standardization industry based on real-life projects (such as OpenPEPPOL) and the need to provide requirements to classification management system standards and real life implementations.

Martin Forsberg and Kornelis Drijfhout continued presenting the discussions in the post-award and pre-award teams respectivelly. Jostein Fromyr from Edisys, and the acting chair of CEN BII concluded the meeting with a report from the architecture team and final comments to explain that the next face-to-face meeting will be in Brussels on December, and he pointed out the priorities for the next period, being the grant application for the Commission and the selection of editors to speed-up the work.

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