CCS merges four digital projects into one after another Crown Marketplace rethink

Quartet of planned development projects cancelled and new contract notice issued for platform housing five commercial agreements in one place

The Crown Commercial Service has once again changed its plans for the development of the Crown Marketplace and has abandoned the process of building stand-alone tools for a number of frameworks.

CCS will, instead, look to build a single online purchasing platform covering five of its commercial agreements: Legal Services; Management Consultancy; Facilities Management Marketplace; Supply Teachers; and Apprenticeship Training.

Over the last few months, CCS has sent out contract notices related to building individual digital purchasing portals for the latter three contracts. Buying platforms for the Legal Services and Management Consultancy frameworks were scheduled to be built as a joint solution.

All four of these procurements have now been cancelled. The projects had a cumulative budget of £1.1m and more than 50 finished bids were submitted by suppliers across the four notices. 

In their place comes another contract notice for the development of a “Crown Marketplace Foundation”. The project, worth up to £900,000 to the winning bidder, will involve the development and construction of “the technical and architectural foundations for future digital buying of CCS-CA (CCS commercial agreements), together with several self-service user journeys based on GDS service design standards”.

Cumulative number of completed bids for the four cancelled projects, including 20 for the supply teachers service, nine for facilities management, 13 for apprenticeships, and 11 for management consultancy

32 months
Time elapsed since plans to build the Crown Marketplace were first unveiled in a government policy paper

Budget of project to build foundation platform for the Crown Marketplace, £200,000 less than the collective total of the four cancelled projects

Weighting of ‘technical competence’ in how CCS will evaluate supplier bids to build the foundation platform, with ‘cultural fit’ and ‘price’ both given 20% weighting

“These will be the building blocks and components for the future digitisation of CCS-CAs,” the contract notice added. “Public-sector users access multiple CCS-CAs to buy common goods and services. Currently, this is a manual, paper-based process which is complex and hard to use. These need to be turned into digital services that allow users to access these CAs online and via a self-service guided user journey.”

The platform created during the project “will form the foundation of a platform to support more CCS-CAs in the near future”, the notice added.

But, as CCS creates more online purchasing services for its frameworks over the coming months and years, these may join the five initial frameworks on the foundation platform – or more platforms may be built to house one or multiple buying tools.

In a statement issued to PublicTechnology, a CCS spokesperson said: “The Crown Marketplace programme remains an important enabler for CCS to achieve its long-term objectives. The next stage will see us deliver a series of products and services digitally. Where it makes sense, we will deliver those products through a common platform, hence our recent activity to combine a series of procurement exercises into a single requirement.”

The contract to build the foundation platform is scheduled to last six months, with an optional extension of up to six months. Applications are open until midnight on Monday 30 July.

At time of writing, there is one complete and seven incomplete applications. CCS anticipates that it will evaluate up to five bidders in total.

Changing plans
The decision to develop a foundational platform housing buying tools for five separate contracts is something of a U-turn from CCS. 

After reaching the conclusion of the test phase of the Crown Marketplace programme earlier this year, CCS began seeking a supplier to continue developing the marketplace’s existing test platform. The intention at this time was that the test platform – and, indeed, the Crown Marketplace as a whole – could, effectively, be developed and progressed as a single product.

This approach was ditched in June, when the tender for the replacement of the test platform was cancelled. Instead, CCS outlined its intention to create 10 individual platforms over the coming months, with most of these dedicated to a single commercial agreement – such as the supply teaching, facilities management, and apprenticeship training products that have now been canned.

“The Crown Marketplace programme remains an important enabler for CCS to achieve its long-term objectives”
CCS spokesperson

Other planned digital services included purchasing tools for travel and utilities frameworks.

The contract notice for the Facilities Management solution explained that the service being developed “would integrate with Crown Marketplace at a later stage”.

The new plan could see CCS revert to something similar to its original plan of developing Crown Marketplace as one, rather than multiple platforms. But no decision has yet been taken about whether any future online buying tools for CCS agreements will join this initial platform, or how many will do so. It is not clear how many platforms will eventually constitute the Crown Marketplace.

Plans to build an “Amazonesque” platform allowing the public sector to buy a comprehensive range of common goods and services were first unveiled in 2015. The Crown Marketplace is intended to take the templates and practices of the Digital Marketplace and apply them at much greater scale.

Sam Trendall

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