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Public works projects are typically large and involve mountains of paperwork and certifications around legal, financial and ethical standards. In Italy, companies tendering bids for public works contracts of more than EUR 150,000 must be certified through a process that entails reviewing 10 years’ worth of an applicant’s business records. Much of this is done through manual workflows. This makes collecting, organizing, reviewing and storing documents slow and tedious, with a lot of back-and-forth.
Once documents are filed in a management system, they’re inaccessible to outside stakeholders, leading to uncertainty about their correctness, completeness and authenticity. To compound matters, the process lacks a documented audit trail — traceability now required by the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC).
Challenges to modernize this certification process led UNIONSOA (The National Association of Certification Bodies Society as known as SOAs) to identify an opportunity for growth.
The certification customer experience: An opportunity for growth
The digital solution we envisioned supports the Italian government’s goal to reduce bureaucracy, simplify processes and increase transparency in the procurement sector. And it provides us with the opportunity for generating new business by offering an improved customer experience. With around 29,000 contractors in the market for certification, the potential for growth is considerable.
The plan was to develop a secure network solution that would automate certification workflow, create transparency and provide real-time status reports to everyone involved. Accomplishing this, however, required extensive IT and industry expertise. That’s why we turned to IBM.
IBM as a transformative partner for digitization, security and ease
UNIONSOA had been working with key technology providers to improve the certification process. But during vendor evaluation for the solution, IBM’s valuable technical skills and solutions, and deep industry expertise, differentiated them from competitors. In the end, we choose IBM due to their understanding of the required processes and how to streamline them.
What’s even more impressive, is that the project was developed in the middle of the pandemic lockdown: everything was carried out through remote calls, including negotiations, contract signing and blockchain testing.
Digital certification enabled by cloud and blockchain
UNIONSOA engaged IBM Cloud Integration Expert Labs to digitize SOAs certification function. Powered by IBM blockchain technology integrated with IBM workflow automation software, the solution helps automate process workflow and creates transparency and trust among stakeholders — ideal for helping private and government parties share confidential records. Its architecture is multicloud, with elements running on the IBM public cloud and Microsoft Azure.
Using IBM Garage methodology, UNIONSOA and the IBM team conducted two design thinking workshops to scope out users’ requirements and create the interface. The agile and iterative method emphasized short sprints to achieve discrete successes.
With the final solution, network members — whether ANAC, public administrators, or other public works stakeholders — can access all required information via distributed ledger technology (DLT) and track certification status step-by-step with real-time notifications of each action. New customers can be added at any time, and new features include an online notary public, assurance of document originality and proof of document provenance.
This type of certification authentication meets ANAC’s “Once & Only” principle, whereby once verifications and checks are completed in a Virtual Dossier, they do not need to be completed again. This makes a significant contribution to transparency while maintaining the highest standards of traceability and security.
Reducing errors, speeding workflow and ensuring accuracy
Using this solution, the team created an archive containing roughly 12,000 virtual dossiers that can be immediately consulted out of a total of 29,000 certified Economic Operators operating in Italy. They’re also accessible to ANAC and therefore help eliminate time and resources spent in handling controls and audits.
From concept to testing, the process took just nine months — even under the challenging conditions created by the pandemic.
By streamlining a slow and error-prone process through automated workflow, staffers are freed for higher-value work. And blockchain’s immutable DLT boosts information accuracy, trust and transparency. The bottom line: the solution differentiates UNIONSOA by enhancing the certification customer experience.
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