One-on-one – Digital Marketplace boss discusses plans to expand the platform internationally

Warren Smith also opens up on how the launch of the Crown Marketplace will reshape central government procurement 

The Digital Marketplace has received Foreign Office funding to work on plans to take its model into three other countries

The government’s Digital Marketplace celebrates its third birthday this month.

Like most three-year olds, it has gone through a steep development curve over the course of its first 36 months. At the end of which, it appears confident on its feet, and ready to tackle the world.

Since 2012, the platform – and its predecessor, CloudStore – has processed a total of £2.6bn of government spending on digital and cloud services. Included in this is £1.2bn that has been spent with SMEs – a figure equating to £1.39 in every £3.

The coming months are set to bring more developmental milestones, including the arrival of a ready-made bigger sister, in the shape of the Crown Marketplace – a new platform designed to take the agile principles of the Digital Marketplace and implement them across the wider government procurement landscape.

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Elsewhere, the Digital Marketplace is also in the early stages of a project to take its offering into other countries, while also redesigning the supplier standard that it implemented for digital and tech companies a year ago, and continuing its efforts to diversify the supply chain, and help small businesses win public-sector contracts. 

We caught up with Warren Smith (pictured below left), director of the Digital Marketplace, to find out more about his goals for the platform over the next few years

PublicTechnology: The Digital Marketplace has been in operation for several years now, and appears very well established. What would represent success for the next few years – is it simply a case of continuing what you’re already doing, or do you now have broader aims?
Warren Smith:
I would like to see an expansion of what we have been able to do so far – really scaling that to the government’s wider digital and technology expenditure. I would also certainly like to see an increase in SME representation. We have done an amazing job of opening up opportunities to a broader range of suppliers, and our focus is still about diversifying the procurement process for framework agreements, to make sure that we are creating contracts that smaller firms can bid for. It is about the simplification of contracts for government suppliers.

You are also currently involved in creating a second iteration of the Supplier Standard for digital and technology firms. How is that progressing?
We will be launching another round of consultation, and we are aligning that with a broader piece of work with the government’s commercial function. We are looking at a broader [set] of suppliers. For us, this looks to be a really important piece of work. 

Procurement has not been able to keep up with the rate of progress and acceleration of technology, and has always been on the back foot

The ‘Amazonesque’ Crown Marketplace platform for the government’s wider procurement needs is currently being tested. How do you envision the Digital Marketplace working alongside it?
The digital and technology transformation programme has brought GDS and CCS to the highest level. I am not saying that I am not interested in [the procurement of] things like pens, paper, and furniture. But we have the transformation programme, and we are focused on the opportunity to do things in a very different way – to bring government into the 21st century. Because procurement has not been able to keep up with the rate of progress and acceleration of technology, and has always been on the back foot. I see the Crown Marketplace being an evolution of what we have done with the Digital Marketplace, and I see it as being key to the future transformation of CCS.  We are helping them to ensure that they have the right standards and best practices.  

Do you believe the Digital Marketplace will still have a discrete and important role to play, once the Crown Marketplace has launched?
Absolutely. We can take the Digital Marketplace and what it represents, and then scale that. I see the Digital Marketplace as a collection of design patterns for the Crown Marketplace. 

In recent years there has been so much focus on breaking up the large overarching contracts and helping smaller firms win government business, that sometimes the SME-friendly messaging can feel a bit dogmatic. Do you see big, multinational firms still having a role to play in government IT?
Absolutely. It has been right to have a focus on SMEs because they have been shut out of government business for a number of reasons in the past. But I very much see there being a really good mixture of technology suppliers – micro, small, medium, and large. It is not about size, it is about behaviour, culture, ways of working, and a common understanding of what good looks like. 

What can you tell us about the work to take the Digital Marketplace into other countries?
We received funding from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office fund for tackling corruption in emerging countries. We put in a bid for a slice of that money for a project [demonstrating how we could] support the implementation of the Digital Marketplace, and some measures to make digital transformation happen [in other countries]. We will go back for full funding in due course. We will be looking at three governments that would benefit from this – and we also have to demonstrate benefits back to the UK government. 

What are those benefits?
We will have delivery teams working with the governments [in question], and working on the same open-source principles. If we had one other government doing the same thing [as us], it potentially doubles our speed to delivery. But four would quadruple it. We can all share the responsibility for end-to-end procurement reform.

How much progress have you made in changing mindsets, and getting the public sector to buy into agile procurement and cloud services?
Certainly, central government have already bought into that, but there is still a massive opportunity for greater working with and supporting the wider public sector. This is not about doing it for them, but absolutely doing it with them, and allowing them to reuse stuff that central government has done – such as the Digital Service Standard, which local government has already been able to reuse.


Sam Trendall

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