In June 2013, I visited the Publications Office of the European Union and gave there a presentation about our results in the area of public procurement achieved in LOD2 project. The visit was organized by LOD2 project officer Stefano Bertolo and Luca Martinelli, Assistant to the Director General of the Publications Office of the European Union. The Publications Office maintains the Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) portal. The portal contains public procurement notices from all EU member countries. It currently publishes its data in the HTML format. Data in the XML format is also available but only under a paid licence. However, the Publications Office plans to change its publication policy so that the data from TED is published as open data (machine readable formats, easily accessible, etc.). RDF is one of the considered formats, which would help the Publications Office to expose data on TED as linked open data. My presentation was about what linked open data is and what benefits it could bring to EU citizens, public authorities in EU and to the EU as a whole.
There were more than 20 participants at the event. My presentation took approximately 90 minutes. I spoke about basic principles of linked open data and showed some examples demonstrating how the Publications Office could publish its public procurement data on TED. In the second part of the presentation I tried to discuss some benefits linked data could bring to the area of public procurement. I focused on the benefits for different groups (stakeholders): citizens, buyers (mostly public authorities), suppliers (mostly private companies). The presentation was accompanied with many examples.
During my presentation we discussed many issues with the participants who were mostly employees of different departments of the Publications Office. Some of them were responsible for the TED portal. Besides the benefits, which are listed in the presentation, we also discussed the problem of identifying buyers and suppliers. Unfortunately, there is no EU-wide identifier for companies or institutions. Even at the level of particular EU countries the situation is not much better. Only some members countries use an identifier scheme for their companies and institutions. This is very challenging for the Publications Office and also for all potential users of their data, since it is not possible to unambiguously pair public contracts and notices with the same buyer/supplier. It is only possible to use organization’s name/country/address to identify an organization. However, this might be ambiguous because these properties are often misspelled.
It would be helpful if we had a common scheme which would enable unambiguous identification of organizations across whole EU. However, as noted by the participants, it would be very hard, technically and mainly politically. On the other hand, if we speak about linked data principles, we do not need an identification scheme which could be used in various EU agendas. We just need each buyer/supplier to have a unique HTTP URI to be able to identify it in the data. This is a much easier task because most organizations already have their own web portal or at least simple web presentation, the HTTP URI of which could be reused. I further discuss this topic in the presentation.
Even there are some problems with publishing TED data as linked open data, the participants agreed that linked data offers a promising direction and they are interested in our further progress in the area. Therefore, we agreed to stay in touch and LOD2 project will inform the Publications Office about its further achievements.