Electronic Public Procurement in Rome (Part II – OpenPEPPOL)

Following the CEN BII meeting in Rome, on Thrusday and Friday (3rd and 4th October) there was an OpenPEPPOL conference. The meeting was  at Consip, and it was led by Andre Hoddevik, the OpenPEPPOL chair.

During the two-day conference we went from the more general and administrative information about OpenPEPPOL, down to the details and technical discussions on questions and particular issues encountered when deploying OpenPEPPOL and particularly the new Access Points and certificates, and the work done in the new BIS Specifications.

Anders Kingstedt chaired the session on Thursday. He started explaining the levels of adoption of OpenPEPPOL standards across EU. It is amazing to see that more and more countries in Europe are getting involved in OpenPEPPOL. The last one being Poland. The increasing number of service providers that are adopting PEPPOL standards to provide services to their customers is also a signal of the OpenPEPPOL traction. It is becoming a standard not only for the public sector in the EU, but also for private businesses. And there is also another important point on OpenPEPPOL, its infrastructure is likely to support the exchange documents for vertical markets other than public procurement.

Regarding the liaison with other European initiatives, Anders explained the participation of OpenPEPPOL in the European MultiStakeholder Forum on Electronic Invoicing, and the presence in the e-SENS Large Scale Pilot. After that introduction, Anders explained the responsibilities and procedures for Regional Authorities and Service Providers. He described the support procedures and the enrollment and deployment of the new certificates processes.

Finally, Anders went into the change and release management procedures. He went through the OpenPEPPOL governance documents and the different steps for handling the change management within OpenPEPPOL.

After Anders’ presentation it was the turn for Sven Rasmussen from DIGST in Denmark. Sven is responsible of the eDelivery Work Package in the e-SENS project, and he was basically explaining the main points of the project and the specifics on the e-Delivery work. He said that there are different e-Delivery alternatives in e-SENS, and among these alternatives, START is not going to be promoted, being one common protocol, such as AS2 or ebMS3 more likely to be the final choice. He draw a final picture as an infrastructure with different protocols living together.

Following Sven, Alain Ducass from ADETEF made a presentation about electronic Identity and electronic Signatures and its use in the different OpenPEPPOL BIS.

Steinar Overbeck was next, explaining the Oxalis Access Point. This is an open source initiative funded by DIFI in Norway, and developed under an open source license and using known tools such as github. Steinar suggested developers to contribute and issue “pull requests”. The Oxalis AP is the most commonly used OpenPEPPOL Access Point, maybe due to the success of (mandatory) EHF deployment in Norway, but unfortunately, they have not developed an SMP.

Steinar asked OpenPEPPOL to remove ambiguity in different points of its technical specification, going down to a very detailed and technical level. Some people in the room were delighted with these low-level points: Signing and encrypting MDN, validation of peer-ssl certificate, caching rules, AS2-to versus certificate CN… this kind of real stuff was discussed in the room.

After a break, Sven Rasmussen took the lead again reporting on the TI-CC (Technical Infrastructure) activities of OpenPEPPOL. He explained the PKI migration process: The certificates for OpenPEPPOL have to be updated this October. Sven explained the process and deadlines for every AP to be updated. The current Access Points should be migrated to a new release supporting two certificates, and update the certificates before the end of October. CIPA and Oxalis, both support dual certificates already.

Regarding the protocols, Sven explained that START will not be the mandatory protocol anymore and he was describing how the migration towards the adoption of AS2 as the mandatory protocol will be. He also told us that the SBDH envelope will be used in OpenPEPPOL and explained under which circumstances this would happen.

Sven also explained the Message Level Response BIS and the final decisions made by the group led by Olav Kristiansen from DIFI. The point being that the MLR will not be mandatory, and that the sender must register its capabilities to receive MLR in the SMP. But even if he registers for reception, it is up to the receiver to submit that information based on the technical validation of the exchanged document. The MLR should not be used for business responses but only for informing about technical validation results.

Another point discussed was the interoperability for START. The policy for operation of an Access Point was explained again, stating that the sending Access Point should validate the messages before sending to ensure the messages in the OpenPEPPOL network are correct. And there was also mentioned that the receiving Access Point should not reject messages based on validation at protocol level.

Once Sven finished with all the technical stuff for the Transport Infrastructure, Anders Kingstedt explained the current work on the Post-Award-CC. He explained the work being done in the different new BIS documents (Invoice, Credit Note, Catalogue, Despatch Advice, Order and MLR) and he explained Oriol Bausà (me) was working on the codelists and business rules. Anders is really good at making people participate, so he started one of these sessions where everyone was asked to raise questions and topics, then we voted on the most important ones, and split in groups in order to discuss and achieve some conclusions. He really broke the “tempo” of the meeting, which was quite good. We had really good discussions in Consip’s garden about some of the topics that had more votes. I remember some of them:

  • Handling versions of BIS
  • Mandatory use of the BIS
  • Conformance testing and testing tools
  • Decision making process
  • Political endorsement

This was the end of the first day. We went for dinner in the jewish quartier of Rome. The dinner was sponsored by OpenPEPPOL. Quite good food again and great conversations during dinner with Markus Gudmundsson, Carmen Ciciriello and Andre Hoddevik.

The second day was devoted to the Pre-award CC. Isabella Rapisarda from Consip was chairing the working sessions. She introduced the new OpenPEPPOL Pre-Award community and explained that the main focus for this community will be working towards the standardization of the Virtual Company Dossier and the electronic Catalogues. Both topics are very relevant in the new Directive on Public Procurement and can drive the path for adoption of electronic processes in the pre-award area. Isabella indicated that there is also a proposal for a new classification system (CPV 2.0) for public procurement submitted to the European Commission. Another task for the Pre-Award community is the coordination with the e-SENS Large Scale Pilot.

Related with e-SENS, Lefteris Leontaridis from University of Pireus and responsible for the pilots of the e-SENS project explained how these pilots are to be selected and how they should be executed.

Then was the turn for Kornelis Drijfhout from Pianoo. He explained the brainstorm from the previous day, were 12 people from BII, OpenPEPPOL and e-SENS met together to think about an architecture for the pre-award. He said that they took the main “ingredients” existing on pre-award such as software components, standards, pilots, etc. and analyzed two different architectures splitting in two groups. The architectures were 1) a one stop tendering portal, and 2) a decoupled tendering solution. Both groups came up with similar conclusions, so they defined a roadmap:

  1. Multiple one stop tendering portals
  2. Standardize as much as possible (notices, qualifications, tenders, product descriptions…)
  3. Connect one stop tendering portals (through Xvergabe and OpenPEPPOL)
  4. Tendering portals will start to specialize (focusing to economic operators or contracting authorities)

The last part of the workshop was about Kornelis and Isabella exposing the Pilots they are going to submit to e-SENS.

In conclusion, these two-day session on OpenPEPPOL made me aware that things are changing in Europe, and the interest in OpenPEPPOL solutions, both the infrastructure and the BIS specifications is growing and taking up. The success in the adoption in Norway is certainly something that will soon be imitated in other countries in the EU and hopefully we will soon see a more digitalized society, improving B2B thanks to the efforts led by the B2G.

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