Procurement agency’s technology category director discusses ongoing work to drive Whitehall transformation programmes and ambitions to expand into new areas
“It is getting a lot more real,” says Crown Commercial Service’s technology category director Niall Quinn, when asked about the procurement agency’s ongoing drive to help break up Whitehall’s biggest IT contracts.
Disaggregation has been a key strand of the government’s commercial and procurement plans for technology ever since Francis Maude took ministerial charge of the Cabinet Office in 2010. One of Maude’s first acts was to oversee the migration of the government’s procurement agency – then known as Buying Solutions – into his department.
Seven years and two rebrands later, and CCS – alongside Cabinet Office stablemate the Government Digital Service, which was founded in 2011 – continues to propel the IT disaggregation agenda forward.
The last seven years have brought some notable coups, with central government’s two biggest departments – HM Revenue and Customs, and the Department for Work and Pensions – both engaged in disaggregating hulking multi-year engagements with Capgemini and HPE, respectively. Other, smaller Whitehall agencies have also broken up single-supplier or tower arrangements, such as UK Export Finance, which in 2016 left behind a 15-year engagement with CGI and signed discrete deals with a number of SME suppliers.
But the next couple of years could be crucial in defining the overall success, or otherwise, of the government’s disaggregation programme. Quinn has previously predicted that the period will mark an “inflection point”, as up to £4bn’s worth of IT contracts reach their end and come up for grabs.
Recently published advice from the Government Commercial Function warned Whitehall departments that disaggregation is a complex process that could take as long as four years, and must be properly planned for.
We need to make frameworks that are much more fit for purpose, and we need to be much more flexible going forward
Quinn echoes this sentiment, claiming that a failure to begin planning early enough in advance has, in the past, prevented departments from disaggregating – as renewing big overarching deals is far simpler in the short term. Particularly for employees who Quinn acknowledges are “possibly some of the most overworked people in the country”.
“When they break [a big contract] apart, it is about whether they have the right skill sets. In a lot of cases, they won’t,” he says. “It is a big transformation journey for a department, and they cannot stop halfway.”
Quinn adds: “If they are going to move to a multi-supplier environment, they will have to have a SIAM (service integration and management) function, and they will have to have a contract-management function. If having insourcing is an option, it is dependent on trying to find [the right people] to do that. You also need to do a tremendous amount of analysis of your application-hosting, and which ones you can move to the cloud.”
The CCS tech chief pointed to a couple of frameworks that could play a key role in helping Whitehall free itself from monolithic IT contracts and embrace a new style of IT procurement and provision. Chief among them is the £3bn Technology Services 2 framework, which went live in September. The deal features a total of 157 IT companies offering services across four lots: Technology Strategy and Service Design; Transition and Transformation; Operational Services; and Programmes and Large Projects.
“Technology Services 2 is the landing point for all the big SI deals,” Quinn says. “From start to end it took 18 months [to develop], as we needed to do a lot of due diligence. There are lots of good resources there on the application-management side.”
Host with the most
Quinn adds that Crown Hosting Services – a joint venture between the government and Ark Data Centres, offering co-location and hosting services to the entire UK public sector – also has an important role to play in helping departments ditch large proprietary technology deals and adopt a more agile way of operating.
“By moving things into Crown Hosting, and then working to migrate, [departments] can terminate their very expensive SI deals. It is like a pivot into the cloud,” Quinn says.
Quinn picks out the Crown Hosting programme as one of CCS’s biggest success stories of recent years – particularly given the public sector’s sketchy historical track record with joint ventures (JV).
“It is an example of how we can do things very differently,” he says. “It is a single-supplier framework, where Derby City Council can get the same price as the DWP. Single-supplier frameworks are quite new to CCS, and we were absolutely aware that there would be [scrutiny] and that, traditionally, the government doesn’t do JV very well.”
He adds: “We recently benchmarked the service – the prices were lower than the best in class in the marketplace.”
The deal with Ark expires in March 2019, and Quinn says that CCS “is currently looking at the options for what we are going to do” at that point. He adds that public-sector customers should not harbour any concerns about moving or keeping their data to Crown Hosting – even if the deal is not renewed. Data will continue to be hosted for the duration of the individual customer’s call-off contract – which can range from one month up to seven years.
“There is no worry – you have the rights to remain in those datacentres – we structured the contract that way,” he says. “If you want to stay, you can stay.”
A number of other significant IT framework vehicles are nearing their end. Five deals worth a cumulative total of almost £8bn are set to be replaced in the next 15 months. In doing so, and in creating new IT procurement vehicles, CCS increasingly intends to look at how it can offer more flexible contracting models.
An early exemplar of this is the recently launched £500m dynamic purchasing system (DPS) for providing access to the Health and Social Care Network. Unlike a traditional static framework, a DPS model allows for new suppliers and services to be added over the life of the contract.
Quinn says: “CCS needs to move away from being a framework factory; we need to make frameworks that are much more fit for purpose, and we need to be much more flexible going forward.”
It is a big transformation journey for a department, and they cannot stop halfway
One of the procurement agency’s key targets for the next couple of years is to further expand its reach beyond Westminster.
“We want to push into the wider public sector a bit more,” Quinn says. “People like TfL, or Network Rail – areas that previously have not had much engagement with CCS.”
An early project in support of this ambition will be launching a new and improved version of Crown Commercial Service’s website, which Quinn admits is currently “a bit rubbish”.
The bigger objective is to allay any misgivings government departments and other public bodies may still have about working with CCS, rather than handling the entire procurement process in house.
“People are always suspicious, because they want to protect their own patch,” he says. “But we are just here to help – we have something here you can use, and we are here if you need additional capability or capacity.
“We are not here to take your job, we are here to supplement what you do.”