Aberdeen-based Millstream, the electronic tendering provider which runs the national e-procurement portals for Scotland and Wales, is celebrating 25 years in business.
From its early days in the late 1980s in Aberdeen, with just three staff and a team of about 30 contractors, Millstream now has almost 50 staff and has successfully built its Tenders Direct and myTenders websites, which provide private companies with tender information on new business opportunities in the public sector.
It also runs procurement websites for Scotland (Public Contracts Scotland) and Wales and recently launched a Norwegian service, myTenders Norge, after running the national portal for the Norwegian government for eight years.
Managing director Tim Williams, a former commercial diver, started out project managing underwater contracts in the UK and Norway but opted to diversify after the oil industry restructured.
“The European single market was being launched at that time and legislation for public contracts was being developed,” he said. “Available contracts were published in the printed version of the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) so I used to spend hours every day at the library, trawling for potential business opportunities. By the time they stopped publishing on paper, it was as thick as a phone book.”
Tim and his colleagues used the information for their own purposes but then realised it was useful to other people too so set up Tenders Direct, sourcing and sending out tender opportunities to businesses that wanted it.
“We’d send information by post or fax to companies who were interested. At one stage the fax machines were going all night so it was a relief all round when we moved to email in 1999. In the early days, we sent customers a form asking for relevant keywords that we used in searches. As our customer base grew, we were able to group tenders into different sectors.
“This has been refined over the years and Tenders Direct now sends bespoke alerts to subscribers’ inboxes, so if you are looking for a contract to provide roofing services for a new hospital, you will receive only roofing tenders and not simply everything related to healthcare, much of which will be completely irrelevant.”
More than 4,000 clients use Tenders Direct to ensure they receive manually personalised alerts on tender opportunities, including low value tenders – generally less than £100,000 – which offer particularly lucrative opportunities for SMEs.
myTenders is a tender publication and management service used by more than 700 public organisations to submit fully compliant contract notices to the OJEU and Contracts Finder.
“The days of the printed version of the OJEU are long gone and there is no effective way to keep track of all the opportunities without using an online system, particularly in today’s fast-paced world of business,” said Tim.
“We work with local and central governments, NHS trusts and housing associations through to the emergency services and armed forces. In the private sector we have clients ranging from sole traders to SMEs to multinationals, in sectors including construction, health, IT and energy.
“With the Government aiming for procurement to be completely electronic by 2016, it’s vital that companies ensure they don’t miss anything.”
The company provides tailored or scheduled public sector procurement training to both suppliers and purchasers, while Tim is a sought-after speaker and consultant.
As well as briefing Government ministers and members of parliament at Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels on developments in procurement law, he has recently addressed numerous Chambers of Commerce events, including a successful session for Dundee and Angus Chamber at Verdant Works, and Heathrow Business Summit workshops. He has also travelled to Boston to advise healthcare companies on procurement.
He added: “We have come a long way since the days of paper and faxes. Our aim to double our Tenders Direct subscription base in the next three years and we also have some very innovative new services that we are about to introduce that will give our customers a huge advantage over their competitors.”
For more information, visit www.tendersdirect.co.uk