You can put innovation out to tender

Published on {{ $filters.formatDateWithYear(1488582000000) }}

On Thursday 2 March 2017, Witteveen+Bos’ Heerenveen office organised a symposium in Haren for various authorities and companies in the north of the Netherlands. The theme of the afternoon was ‘You can (cannot) put innovation out to tender’. The different views discussed during the afternoon produced one common outcome: calls for tenders and innovations are good match, provided that the right conditions are created.

The north of the Netherlands, with its numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the infrastructure, is an ideal place to innovate. So at Buitensociëteit Paterswolde in Haren, more than 90 clients, builders and consultants from the north of the Netherlands came together to get and share inspiration during a symposium dedicated to innovations and tenders.

Groningen provincial executive member Fleur Gräper-van Koolwijk (D66) opened the afternoon. The objective of the Groningen provincial authority is to make the infrastructure ‘smart and green’. Innovation is urgently necessary to address these and other issues. Gräper-van Koolwijk: ‘We can achieve this by doing it: sharing examples, showing what is possible and more frequently taking a look behind the scenes at each other’s organisations’. Sieds Hoitinga of the province of Friesland spotted a few challenges in the combination of innovations and tenders, however. He gained experience with the wooden bridges in Sneek and is now working on developing a bio-based composite bicycle bridge near Ritsumasyl. ‘Some issues can easily be solved innovatively, but in other cases it’s a less logical step. As authorities, we must not set down everything in detail beforehand, and instead allow scope for new ideas to come about’, he said.

Speaker Theo Salet, a lecturer at the Eindhoven University of Technology, who also works at Witteveen+Bos, endorsed the view that sharing knowledge and cooperating is essential. In close cooperation with other universities, architects, construction companies and contractors/subcontractors, Salet has worked on developing an application of 3D concrete printing in the construction sector. Work is already in progress on the first 3D-printed building. ‘Without these partners, we would never have come up with this innovative application’, he said.

As a mid-sized contractor in a competitive market in the north of the Netherlands, Peter Westra, managing director at Oosterhof Holman in Grijpskerk, knows how to innovate. Among other things they developed the ‘QuakeShield’, an innovation to strengthen brickwork to make it more resistant to shocks like earthquakes. According to Westra, innovation requires the will to do it and to invest. ‘It yields a lot, but it also demands a lot of you as a company and as an employee. You need intrinsic motivation’.

Jaap de Koning, who works at Witteveen+Bos and for the Committee for Tendering Experts, concluded the afternoon. He emphasised that tendering is the key to change, even though initially the idea often evokes other associations. But, says de Koning, ‘the Public Procurement Act definitely makes innovation possible’. However, he did mention a few conditions for enabling innovations. ‘Firstly, there must be latitude in defining what is needed and there must be a sense of comfort. Innovations also need to offer a perspective; there must be a picture of the market for the result of the innovation. An absolute precondition is that the calls for tenders include a substantial quality component’.

Various examples showing that innovations and tendering go hand-in-hand are all already noticeable in the north of the Netherlands. So the conclusion is that, leaving aside the need to create a few conditions, it is necessary to possess certain properties. For example, you must be truly motivated, be bold enough to take risks personally and be willing to share ideas broadly.