The Municipality of Rotterdam embraces a digital future

Meet the largest purchaser in The Netherlands. In their ambitions, the Purchasing and Procurement department is not holding back: “Together, we raise the city's ambitions by bringing in the best for Rotterdam through purchasing and tendering.” We spoke with Huub van Putte, Purchasing Team Leader and Richard Brabers, Purchasing Expert.


At my previous employer, I was mainly concerned with the tendering process. Starting and finishing a tender. Now, at the municipality of Rotterdam, I also see the before and after. Take, for example, the ordering process, how it should be set up. I was not aware of that before. That's for the one with the contract, I thought. That is the biggest advantage if you work for a larger organization; you see everything in a broader perspective.

Richard Brabers

And that, according to Huub, is also the reason why Rotterdam is a frontrunner in the Netherlands. “Everything is big in Rotterdam: pens and pencils, sheep for dike grazing, company clothing, almost everything is being sent out on the European tender market.”

Let buyers focus on what's fun

Within the municipality, Huub is one of the pioneers of all kinds of digital improvements and innovations. He himself wants to 'robotise the administrative burden within the purchasing process as much as possible'. “Purchasers can then focus on what's fun.” He is always busy with APIs, artificial intelligence and data-driven work. “I witnessed the establishment of Negometrix (now Mercell Nederland) at the very beginning of my purchasing life."

In total, about 50 buyers work for the municipality. “We are one of the few municipalities with a central administration and a central purchasing department that carries out tenders on behalf of the clusters. As a buyer, you therefore have to be a good sparring partner. Being able to participate effectively, communicate about social return, SRI, sustainability, circularity and, for example, also about emission-free logistics.

“The level of knowledge is high,” adds Richard. “As a result, there is usually no battle about 'having to tender'. The contract manager already knows this. That obligation is reasonably well embedded. Category management is the biggest challenge at the moment: how are you going to link it together? If one cluster is working on something, how are you going to respond to it?”


More than just an e-procurement system

An important theme for purchasing is digitization. “In 2008, Rotterdam was already working with Commerce-hub (which later became part of Negometrix). But Commerce hub was not used by everyone. There was no central organization at that time. One cluster didn't use it, the other did. Some clusters also had only one buyer. A few years later, the purchasing system had to be put out as tender again. With that tender, it was also decided to introduce it for the entire group.” “We do everything via Mercell's software: All kinds of European tenders.” Meanwhile, Huub takes a quick look at his own dashboard. “At the moment, there are 525. That is excluding the requests from the Dynamic Purchase System (DPS). That's another 1,500. From one DPS! But be aware, there is also a team from our HR department on this.”

But an e-procurement system was not enough. The municipality has built ROM (Rotterdam Online Market Approach Portal) - a guidance system for buyers to be able to place an order and guide them through the entire process. Huub: “There are about 3,000 applicants (also known as buyers). The process of approval and enrichment is so advanced in Oracle that a link has been created. When the applicant enters a tender, the input from Oracle goes to Mercell's software to start a tender there. Once the tender has been completed, you archive it, and Mercell returns an archive to Oracle."

An important theme for us is 'having your files in order'. Contract management is a crucial part of this. That will be enriched with the file from Mercell. For example, fields with data from the first request are always reused. The supplier fills in his details and these are automatically included. Single entry, use multiple times. Mercell sends all relevant data to the contract management. So you don't have to type it all over again."

We have built a robot for DPS external hire. It takes data from Mercell. The buyer approves a supplier and at night that supplier is entered in the supplier management module. The robot attaches the correct documents to it. The buyer does not have to do anything. Huub: “We try to avoid manual actions through smart links. The challenge is to go even further, because this is a 'dumb' robot. We want a smart one. It only transfers data. A smart one can also check whether the supplier already exists and whether there may have been bad experiences. Now you come to the artificial intelligence part. How will that develop in purchasing?”

“System support remains the most important aspect. There will be a shift in the type of buyers, you need. Soon they will no longer be administrators. You will need communicators, negotiators, regulators. Typing in forms to make inquiries will all happen automatically. This automation allows you to focus more on strategic purchasing. 

Richard adds: “The same goes for archiving tasks. Together with Mercell, we ensure that these administrative actions are as low as possible. Another important aspect is to guarantee the recognisability and similarity of questions. We have a library of knowledge documents and explanations of the assessment systems. Everything is in there. Not only the templates, but also the documents with explanations.”

“The most important thing is to provide maximum support for the purchasing process. If you publish a tender, you don't have to worry anymore if it got lost in the mail." 

“The most important aspect of the software from Mercell and e-procurement, as far as I'm concerned, is the vault function. The fact that it is there, is what makes it special. All the other purchasing systems say that, but they can't always do it. That's actually the power of Mercell. As a public buyer, data security is an absolute must. On the one hand for the Procurement Act, but on the other also to guarantee objectivity and integrity. TenderNed (the Dutch Government's online tendering system) also has this function, of course.”

Huub Van Putte

Mercell is more than software. It's a creative collaboration that makes both of us better

Through all the years that the Municipality of Rotterdam has now been working with Mercell, there has been a close collaboration and ongoing development. Huub: “The added value lies in the fact that we have grown closer to each other. It's not only about software, but also consultancy, support, and collaboration. A while ago (before Corona), a consultant of yours came over here for support for a period of time, every month, working as a kind of source of information. Those are collaborations that make you happy. Just like the training you provide. We had done that in-house to make it a bit more Rotterdam-like. We were missing that during the Corona crisis. It does so much for the juniors. The first batch, all together in one photo with their certificate. They'll never forget that.”

“On a monthly basis, our self-proclaimed Mercell administrators meet with the Mercell Account Manager to discuss improvements and share feedback with the goal of becoming better together. We also have contact with each other at a strategic level every quarter. Because we are in contact on various levels, there is really an effective collaboration.”

“The most important thing is to consult with the clusters about what they really want. And how are you going to ensure that. It includes good tools that you enjoy using. That is why we want to switch to Mercell Negometrix4 in the future. Both for us and the supplier. It just looks a bit fresher and fruitier and is also more user-friendly for our suppliers.”

A checklist workflow makes everything easier

“We want to use the digital tools much more, such as the checklists, says Huub. The checklists help internal stakeholders such as legal advisors to go through certain steps for approval, before the purchaser is allowed to continue. “That makes a huge efficiency gain. Instead of writing your BDs (descriptive documents) manually, you make them digital. But we also live in enormous luxury. We have six lawyers (legal tender specialists) who check and read all tenders and help and advise. Try looking for that in a small congregation.”

The buttom line is, we're in total control

All because we were able to organize all processes so well. Good people, good systems, robots, AI, training occupation that makes everyone jealous. It's a joint effort that you have to keep working on. And keep it fun. You have to be in control, have files in order, be findable, add value for the clusters, and control your legitimacy.”