‘We default to frameworks, but there are many other models’ – CCS looks to the future

With five major IT contracts set to go live in the space of nine months, the government’s procurement arm is seeking to evolve

Starting in May next year, the government will begin work to replace a range of major frameworks containing agreements with thousands of IT suppliers

With a range of big-ticket purchasing vehicles set to launch next year, Crown Commercial Service is gathering input on what the future of central government technology procurement should look like – including a potential move beyond the framework model.

Between May 2018 and March 2019 no fewer than five major central government IT frameworks are scheduled to go live, beginning with the tenth iteration of the G-Cloud framework on 22 May. 

In August, CCS is planning to launch the Application Solutions software framework, which is intended to replace both the £950m Corporate Software Solutions (CSS) deal and the £300m Local Authority Software Applications (LASA) contract. 

The first day of November next year will, theoretically, see the launch of two massive frameworks: Technology Products 3, and Network Services 2.  The former will succeed Technology Products 2, which arrived in October 2016 with a spending pot of up to £4bn. The inaugural Network Services deal, the lifetime value of which is estimated at up to £2bn, came into effect in summer 2015.

Lastly, the second generation of the Crown Hosting Services contract will come into effect no later than March 2019.

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But, despite the imminent arrival of such a litany of large contracts, CCS wants to broaden its focus beyond major frameworks, according to Dan Saxby, category director for digital future.

“Let’s move the conversation away from Technology Products 3,” he said. “There could be – there should be – a move away from some frameworks. Frameworks can bring really good suppliers to bear, and they do a lot of due diligence [for customers].”

Saxby added: “But there are many other models that we can use to contract. We are very open to listening to the right type of contracting models. I think we default to frameworks – we need to blend it. I do not want suppliers to [simply] be good at bidding to get on frameworks, I want them to be good at delivering the service that government needs.”

Software solutions
The incoming Application Solutions contract is replacing two frameworks with a combined spending pot of £1.25bn. But CCS is determined that the new deal will not simply be an exercise in copying and pasting the details of the outgoing agreements.

Not least because Ben Knight, category lead for software licensing at CCS, admitted that “uptake has been limited” of the products and services offered by CSS and LASA.

“We recognise that there has been quite a lot of change in the years these frameworks have been active,” he said. “There has been a rethink, and we have done a lot of soul-searching around why it did not work so well last time around.”

Part of that learning experience has been asking public-sector customers what features they would like to see implemented for future frameworks. Knight said that feedback so far has indicated that buyers would like the option of directly awarding smaller contracts to their chosen supplier, rather than instigating a bidding process.

Amount of spending on IT products and services managed by CCS each year,  out of a UK total of £14.4bn

Cost saving CCS claims customers can achieve by using Crown Hosting Services, rather than one of the big public-cloud providers

Number of suppliers on G-Cloud 9, which went 
live in May 2017

10 years
Public-sector customers’ desired length of call-off contract for new software framework, according to CCS

They would also prefer the new framework to be “a one-stop shop that delivers the solution, not just the software”, Wright said, and would like the option to award individual call-off contracts of up to 10 years in length, rather the current limit of five years for CSS and seven for LASA. 

Another request from public sector purchasers is a more diverse range of suppliers, including more vendors, according to Knight.

He added: “I am happy to have a framework with a bigger supplier mix. But there needs to be a system in place where you don’t have to go through 150 bids each time there is a requirement.”

CCS is currently considering several alternatives for how the Application Solutions deal will be divided into lots, and has sought the opinions of various suppliers.

The first option splits the framework into four categories: Applications; Data Management; Customer/Citizen Experience; and Wider Ecosystem.

Supplier feedback to this option appears decidedly lukewarm, with comments suggesting the structure “needs to be more outcome-focused”, and “relies on the subjective opinion of the customer”.

The second option contains three lots, covering Horizontal, Vertical, and Bespoke software. Suppliers asked by CCS seemed perplexed by this option, with more than one describing the categorisation as “vague”, and another suggesting it was “too high-level”.

The third option provides for four lots: People; Physical Assets; Money; and Data.

We need to do more to encourage people into the frameworks we have built, and be more proactive in our support

Comments seem to mark this as the clear suppliers’ favourite, with several stating explicitly that this is their preferred option. One said that this structure “promotes customer care”, while another said it “feels like the cleanest version, which will aid customer and supplier understanding”.

Microsoft matters
CCS’s three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Microsoft is another government technology engagement reaching its conclusion next year. The MoU – which offered public sector Microsoft Enterprise Agreement customers the option to renew their contract at a price “broadly comparable” with their previous deal – was introduced in 2015 to replace the PSA12 framework dedicated to the vendor’s technology. 

Knight said that CCS wants to hear from public bodies about the nature and relative importance of their work with Microsoft.

“If you are a customer of Microsoft, are they a strategic supplier?,” he said. “I would really like to understand the business thinking and the strategic thinking behind that, so we can optimise that relationship.”

The CCS software leader concluded that, whatever form is taken by the government’s upcoming IT contracts, its procurement arm intends to ensure that customers get the most out of them.

He said: “We need to do more – we need to start [encouraging] people into the frameworks we have built, and be more proactive in our support and guidance.” 

Saxby and Knight were speaking at the recent Socitm Annual Conference in Leicester.

Sam Trendall

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