The Greek mythological prophet Tiresias needed help to read the future. He was blind and had an assistant to describe the smoke patterns from burnt offerings so he could interpret what would be imminent.

For Brazil’s Ministry of Planning, Development and Management, procurement was a lot like blind Tiresias trying to get a glimpse of a hazy future. With no proper system for pricing public services and goods, it was a tedious process to understand how much they were supposed to pay. After eighteen years of stumbling around in the dark, the Ministry of Planning created a Price Dashboard that helps the government check how much money it should be paying for each service or product. This has helped the government spend more efficiently, since they have visibility on different costs and are no longer paying suppliers more than they should.

Here is how Brazil revamped its public procurement pricing system with a data dashboard, powered by data integration and analytics company Qlik.

What the Price Dashboard does

The Ministry of Planning’s Price Dashboard allows public officials to compare the previous prices the government paid for services such as professional training courses and road maintenance, or goods such as vaccines and stationery. Officials can also look at how prices of a particular service or product changes throughout the year, and the number of suppliers in each region of the country. This information helps officials understand the market prices as they procure for government projects, so they would know if a vendor is charging unfairly.

Three improvements the Price Dashboard made:

1. Simplified system

Before the Price Dashboard was introduced in 2017, the government had an existing system with all the information on the previous prices of government purchases. But this system was old – it was built on multiple programming languages, so datasets that were stored could not be compared with one another. This meant that although data was available, there was no transparent way to track all of the previous prices.

For instance, a search for the price of a water bottle would bring up more than 40 results, “leading to a lot of guess-work rather than data-driven insights”, explained a Qlik representative. With no reliable benchmark to refer to or any way to use data to prove suppliers wrong, there was a higher risk of purchasing overpriced goods or services.

The Qlik dashboard changed that. It standardises the data so officials can easily compare all costs, and ensure they pay suppliers the right prices.

2. Open procurement data

On the old system, public officials had limited access to the information it stored. Nine out of every 10 federal public agencies could not access the government’s price database on the old system. Very few public officials knew the market rates of the materials and services they were paying for.

This new dashboard is open and accessible to all members of the public, so all government officials and citizens can look up the costs. This means a more transparent buying process on top of lower, fairer prices.

The Ministry of Planning chose to make government spending publicly available as part of the Brazilian government’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Brazil is participating in the international Open Government Partnership and plans to make data on land, environment and water management open within the year.

3. Higher efficiency

The dashboard’s easy-to-use interface dramatically reduced the time taken for public officials to research prices. It used to take up to 20 days, but now, “users spend on average 11 minutes in it. So what used to take weeks to research prices has become only a few minutes,” said Wesley Lira, Director of Logistics at the Ministry of Planning.

A complex system meant Brazil could not properly track and price government procurement projects. But with the help of Qlik bringing data together and providing a “single source of truth”, the days of overpriced purchases and long-drawn price research processes are over.