Procurement teams ‘need more digital know-how’

Written by Rebecca Hill on 17 March 2017 in News

The government needs to distribute digital expertise to procurement teams across Whitehall if it is to succeed in efforts to increase innovation in public services, a conference has heard.

Government told to distribute digital expertise across Whitehall to improve procurement - Photo credit: PA

Speakers at an event on digital government held in London yesterday (16 March) said that the government’s aim to use smaller and more innovative suppliers was being held back by a lack of expertise in procurement teams.

The event discussed a number of tender notices on the Digital Marketplace that were not fit for purpose, for instance by requiring companies to have accounts for the past three years – something many start-ups are unlikely to have – or asking for experience using PRINCE2.

When asked by PublicTechnology how the government could tackle the problem, panellists said that, although there would not be a quick fix, efforts should focus on improving the technical skills of those working in procurement.

“People don't regard procurement as a profession,” said Sam de Silva, a partner at law firm Nabarro.

“I think, particularly in the public sector, they might have been doing something different and fell into a procurement role. And before they know it they’re procuring a multi-billion dollar IT system, which goes horribly wrong, and people are surprised.”

Related content

Using procurement for transformation
Waterfall approach 'contributed' to failure of £46m project to build Scottish police IT system
Government faces 'mass exodus' of IT contractors as HMRC clamps down on tax rules

De Silva called for there to be more work done on building up people’s procurement expertise, as well as an increased focus on digital skills and engagement across Whitehall more widely.

Meanwhile, Tim Barnes, founder of an incubator for SMEs trying to work with government called Rain Gods, said that one of the major problems was the “high degree of centralisation” of expertise in government.

He said that this was partly because the initial efforts to increase digital innovation in Whitehall created the Government Digital Service, but that there was now an argument for distributing that know-how “in a more intelligent way” into the departments.

“It’s not about trying to skill-up every single person in every single department to be an absolute expert – but you should have enough digital expertise to be able to advise on procurement,” Barnes said. “It’s about how you build that departmental-level expertise, so it can help the procurement teams.”

De Silva also said that more could be done to simplify government contracts and the procurement platforms used by the public sector.

He suggested that the government create one single procurement portal with one integrated payment function, and work on explaining the Digital Marketplace catalogue in more user-friendly ways.

The comments echoed those made during an earlier session at the event by Daniel Thornton, programme director at the Institute for Government, who said the Digital Marketplace was a “welcome innovation” but that it was “clear it isn’t being used in the right way”.

Thornton said that there needed to be more vetting of the tenders that are published, and that the government should work harder on getting departments and agencies to understand and comply with the standards GDS sets.

Sources have previously told PublicTechnology that reforms aimed at getting contractors to pay the right levels of tax should have been used to encourage departments to use the Digital Outcomes and Specialists platform to procure specific outcomes, rather than bringing in contractors to do the same work as regular civil servants.

However, speaking about the IR35 reforms last month, one commentator - who wished to remain anonymous - said that public sector bodies had “not been properly briefed” on how to use DOS2 to change the way they procure services.

Share this page



Clara King (not verified)

Submitted on 29 March, 2017 - 16:28
Interesting read. It's always good to stay in the loop with news like this, and to also add in your own thoughts. I came across a great site which provides a great stream of procurement news too

Add new comment

Related Articles

Councils have ‘limited understanding’ of digital skills needed by frontline staff
28 April 2017

Eduserv report finds that just 3% of local government HR leaders rate digital literacy of frontline staff as ‘good’ -...

Lack of digital skills biggest hurdle for governments to overcome, Gartner analysis finds
26 April 2017

Research vice president says public sector needs to embrace start-ups and move workforce out of low-value repetitive...

Councillors aren’t ‘digital dinosaurs’ - but have yet to speak with one voice
24 April 2017

Camden councillor Theo Blackwell’s research finds most councillors are positive about technology but warns that...

Public safety ‘imperilled’ by lack of interoperable police ICT network
24 April 2017

2016 State of Policing report calls for a single decision-making mechanism for ICT to bring forces into the...

Related Sponsored Articles

Schools can win £10,000 to spend with BT following the return of the Tech Factor competition
27 April 2017

BT has launched Tech Factor 2017, a competition inviting schools to show how they would use technology to help pupils prepare for the challenges of the evolving jobs market

UK SMEs showcase projects in competition final to help millions of businesses and citizens stay safe from online crime
19 April 2017

BT, TechHub and the Cabinet Office have announced the winners of their Securing the Nation competition at an event at the iconic BT Tower

BT appoints senior executive to lead public sector business in London and the South East
5 April 2017

BT has appointed a new senior executive, Mark Sexton, to head up its public sector business in London and the South East and implement a new strategic direction to increase its local presence

BT appoints senior executive to lead Public Sector business in Scotland
27 March 2017

BT has appointed a new senior executive, David Wallace, to head up its public sector business in Scotland and implement a new strategic direction to increase local focus nationwide