What Problem Does UNITE Solve?

The COVID-19 pandemic is testing supply chains like no other event in recent history. With entire populations self-isolating or in lock-down, companies are seeing spikes in demand for some items and zero demand for others.

On a societal level, this has led to shortages in products such as hand sanitizer, face masks, and personal protective equipment much needed by hospital staff and other frontline workers. Individual manufacturers and service providers are being hit hard. Many companies have furloughed staff, made layoffs, or closed down completely.

In response to COVID-19, the European Commission has removed procedural constraints around the procurement of urgent goods and services, and is encouraging public buyers to engage directly with the market. Some companies are making use of dynamic capabilities (and the spare capacity created by plummeting demand for their usual products) to switch focus to manufacture the items needed to respond to the pandemic. The big problem is, however, that a company’s ability to dynamically refocus its operations is known only to the company - not to the customer.

How can a company effectively communicate this ability to public buyers? Unless they are an iconic household name armed with government and media contacts, they can’t! So how can the public buyer know that a small-medium enterprise (SME) auto-parts manufacturer can produce face visors, a local micro-brewery can make hand sanitizer, or that an events security company has resources available to transport health service workers? UNITE was created to answer that!

Our Solution

UNITE is the “Underserved Needs In Times of Emergency” Public Procurement Platform, exclusively for governmental procurement of special orders of products and services for crisis response. It can be considered as “The Alibaba of urgent and unusual public procurement requests”.

UNITE is a two-sided platform, connecting public buyers with companies that have the capability and capacity to refocus their activities to supplying goods and services in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

SAVING JOBS, SAVING LIVES!

Our Solution

Companies are invited to register on the platform, describing their capability and capacity to manufacture urgently needed products or to supply in-demand services. Companies may also browse and respond to open tender requests that have been placed by public buyers.

Public buyers may access the platform and create a procurement request. Our software matches the procurement request with potential suppliers and facilitates the complete transaction - including initial contact, negotiation, order placement, delivery acceptance, and payment.

Use Example:

  1. Michael is a senior director of a governmental health administration and signs his organization up to the UNITE platform, receiving a unique UNITE ID to provide to his team of public purchasers (users). This step is to ensure that the platform remains exclusively for public purchasing.

  2. Dr. Deborah is the director of a hospital belonging to Michael's organization. She discovered that the stock of hospital gowns is running low on all wards. She asks her assistant when the next delivery is due and discovers that all of their suppliers are out of stock, due to the COVID-19 crisis.

  3. Dr. Deborah uses her organization’s UNITE ID to access the platform and submits her requirement: 2,500 one-size-fits-all, non-surgical hospital gowns, compliant with EN 13795, delivered to her hospital within 10 days of order.

  4. The UNITE system matches the procurement request with companies that have listed capabilities that match the request (in this case, the production of protective garments) and notifies the companies by email. Interested companies then submit their responses, including price, lead time and safety/compliance/quality control documentation.

  5. On the other side of the platform, we have John. John is the owner of an upholstery company that can repurpose its production line to manufacture garments, such as hospital gowns. John's firm can meet the requirements of Dr. Deborah. John’s company is an SME that would never have access to a purchase order in time of crises, and instead of closing for business, has the opportunity to continue to work through the crisis, while having a positive impact on the frontline of the response.

  6. Dr. Deborah selects John’s company and places the order via the platform, transferring payment to the platform’s escrow system.

  7. John’s company fulfills the order by manufacturing, packaging, and delivering the 2,500 gowns. Dr. Deborah marks the order as complete on the UNITE platform and the payment is automatically released to John’s business bank account.

  8. Should there have been any problems with the order, the payment would have either been released to the supplier or refunded to the buyer, in part or in full, following a dispute resolution process.

What is UNITE's impact on the crisis?

Our Vision

A world where governments and companies innovate together to overcome the crisis.

Our Value Proposition

Facilitating crisis response and economic stimulus through innovation, by matching public procurement needs with companies’ hidden capabilities to respond to rapidly changing needs.

Our Stakeholders

Internal

  • UNITE Team
  • UNITE Partners
  • EUvsVirus Hackathon Team
  • Investors

Connected

  • Organisational:
    • Government units (e.g. health, security, education, etc.) (customer)
    • Companies (customer)
  • Individual:
    • Public purchasers (user)
    • Employees of companies (user)

External

  • European Commission
  • National governments
  • Local government
  • Companies supplying UNITE user companies (supply chain)
  • Members of society benefiting from procured goods/services

Impact for Governments

  • A single, accessible database of companies able to dynamically refocus their operations to the needs of the COVID-19 crisis response.
  • Automated search process, order placement, order tracking, and payment processing.

Impact for Companies

  • Access to public buyers with requirements aligned with company capabilities without the usual demands of public procurement processes (capitalize on European Commission's reduced procedural constraints during the crisis).
  • Revenue to sustain the business during the crisis, reducing or eliminating the need to slow or halt operations.
  • Diversified business, post-crisis.

Impact for Society

  • Medical equipment, PPE, etc. to hospitals and care providers - saves lives.
  • Fewer furloughs and layoffs - saves jobs.
  • Increased availability of in-demand goods and services.
  • Economy stimulus.

Differentiation

UNITE differentiates itself from other solutions in that it provides a database of companies with the capability to refocus operations and in that it automates the process. Other solutions include using existing suppliers and ERP/purchasing system (not suited to abnormal requirements); engagement with the market through contacting individual companies by email, telephone or in-person (slow); use of other online sales platforms (no visibility of companies’ ability to refocus operations); and public buyers’ own knowledge and connections to industry (not widely shared - limited to individuals or local teams).

Positioning

Revenue Model

State-funded, non-profit deployment for use by public buyers within the European Union, during the COVID-19 crisis. Licencing of technology for commercial or non-crisis use, post-COVID-19.

What We Did Over the Weekend

With members located in five different countries (even as far away as Australia), our team came together for the first time for this challenge.

Working remotely, and by making use of the Design Thinking ideology, we empathized with those being most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Focusing on Business Continuity, we tuned our attention to how we could help businesses demonstrate purpose, while at the same time, make a significant impact on the challenges being faced by society, in general. Through observational studies and interviews, we identified the problem described above.

Moving from the problem space, into the solution space, we employed Lean Startup methods to devise a user-centric sustainable business model, that provides a huge impact during COVID-19 and beyond.

To develop our Minimum Viable Product (MVP), our two developers, that are skilled in both the front- and back-ends of the Web Application development process, chose to use a lightweight implementation, based on modern programming languages and a real-time, online work environment.

The programming languages we used for building the UNITE platform were Node.js, Express framework, and the MongoDB NoSQL database with Mongoose for the back-end part, and EJS view engine, Javascript and HTML/CSS with Bootstrap for the front-end, UI-related zone of our web application. We used the MVC (Model-View-Controller) design pattern as well as routing.

The chosen workspace platform was Glitch, which by its online nature leverages fast testing and whole team access to the ongoing implementation, while also being free to use for lightweight applications, and not requiring the developers to install large space-taking applications and languages for doing their work. Our NoSQL database that was created for the Hackathon is also located online, in a cloud system, and we also connected our Glitch project to a Github repository.

The fact that our workspace was a live one, available online for all the team, helped us receive indications during the implementation, and the technology that we used also allowed us to quickly address the problems. In conclusion, our technical solution for creating UNITE is completely online-based, taking advantage of the capabilities of modern digital technologies!

What did we accomplish during the Hackathon?

We met and worked with new team members in UNITE, created a prototype MVP of the UNITE Government Procurement Platform, kept up-to-date and interacted on Slack, video calls, created personas, marketing strategy, logos, roadmap, financial forecasts, pitch, presentation, video, DevPost. We also created a Twitter channel @Uniteteam1 and received a like from Vodafone Institute, an important sponsor of EUvsVirus.

The challenges we faced

Allocating work to those we have only recently met and not being fully aware of each other’s skillsets for example the procurement subject matter expert was asked to work on the marketing strategy, personas, and the roadmap. Working in different timezones with one team member based in Australia and having never worked in Europe or traveled to some parts of Europe.

Working remotely each from our own residences across the globe and managing to still collaborate. Some team members had not participated in a hackathon before, so this was a steep learning curve for them.

One member of our team left the hackathon, early on, leaving us without any design skills in the remaining team. One of our team members stepped forward and took the design work on, nevertheless.

What we learned

New technologies and programming technologies; how it is like to collaborate real-time with people from various continents, hearing from each other; what a Hackathon is about (for those of us that participate in their first Hackathon); how it is - or how it may be - to work from home, while also under pressure. We learned how to put together a roadmap and plan for future scenarios. We learned about examples of buyers and companies in Europe pivoting to refocus their businesses on COVID-19 product and service solutions.

What does the UNITE team need to continue the project?

The UNITE team is a strong and UNITEd team. We have expertise in public and private procurement, manufacturing, product and service design, entrepreneurship, innovation, project management and engineering.

To continue the project, we need financial support for software development, startup costs and operating costs to cover 6 months of operation, charging €0 transaction fees (i.e. no revenue) for COVID-19. Additionally, we need access to public buyers and assistance with integration to procurement processes within the European Community.

Our plan for the immediate future is completing the MVP and showcasing the product to the European Commission and public buyers and continuing to grow the UNITE platform. Reaching out to companies and buyers to join in UNITE to solve COVID-19 challenges.

The value of UNITE after the crisis

Post-crisis, companies and public buyers will continue to benefit from the commercial relationships formed during COVID-19, facilitated by UNITE. Companies, in particular, will benefit from the diversification and innovation that arises from refocusing their operations on the needs of the COVID-19 response. Society will benefit from fewer furloughs, layoffs, and company failures.

We see the UNITE platform being used by public buyers, not only during COVID-19, but also in future crises. Additionally, post-crisis, we’d like to license the technology developed for the UNITE platform for commercial or general public use.

The UNITE platform supports UN Sustainable Development Goals: 3 - Good Health and Wellbeing; 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; and 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Our motto is: We are driving the new normal!

UNITE Prototype

Website: https://www.uniteprocurement.com

Code: GitHub [Private repository for the moment]

Prototype: Under development

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