Crown Marketplace project is no more, as procurement agency looks to build ‘Digital Marketplace 2’ and move services from G-Cloud onto smaller specialised frameworks
Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0
The Crown Commercial Service has taken over responsibility for the running of the Digital Marketplace platform.
As of 1 April, leadership was shifted to the procurement agency from the Government Digital Service. Some GDS employees working on the programme will be redeployed to other areas – something which takes place anyway as part of a regular GDS quarterly assessments of projects, priorities, and individuals’ preferences, PublicTechnology understands.
What the shift of ownership will mean for current GDS employees who remain part of the Digital Marketplace team has not yet been confirmed. These people may move formally to CCS or, more likely, remain at GDS for now but report into managers in its fellow Cabinet Office agency.
Warren Smith, who has served as director of the Digital Marketplace since July 2016, will dedicate himself full time to work to create and roll out the Global Digital Marketplace. This project will remain within GDS.
For the last few years, CCS has overseen the project to build the Crown Marketplace, which was conceived of as an “Amazonesque” online procurement tool that would take the model and the templates of the Digital Marketplace and expand them into a site through which public sector buyers could buy a comprehensive range of commodity goods and services – not just cloud and digital services.
The Crown Marketplace name, and some of the programme’s original intentions, have now been ditched.
Instead, CCS will lead work to create what the procurement agency’s technology director Niall Quinn describes as “Digital Marketplace 2”. The existing Digital Marketplace platform will serve at least the next iterations of the G-Cloud and Digital Outcomes and Specialists Frameworks.
But, beyond that, the goal is to launch future agreements on its successor.
“Digital Marketplace in its current form will be around for G-Cloud 11 and DOS 4 – maybe even G-Cloud 12,” Quinn told PublicTechnology. “But the plan is we will build some form of Digital Marketplace 2 – not out of the bones of the Digital Marketplace, it will be something different and new – that has lots of common modules, like single supplier log-on, further competition: all the things you need for a [user] journey.”
Once Digital Marketplace 2 is ready, G-Cloud and Digital Outcomes will be the first frameworks to be added to the platform. After which, “a number of other CCS frameworks” will follow in due course.
The move away from the Crown Marketplace name and strategy – which Quinn characterises as a “classic waterfall programme” – comes in recognition of the fact that the public sector has more complex and diverse needs than can be served by a simple online catalogue.
“Is what we need Amazonesque? I think we need a GoCompare, or a MoneySupermarket,” Quinn said. “If our buyers want to buy cloud services, [we need a platform that says]: what’s important to you? Price? Length of term? Flexibility? Then take the responses and give you 10 suppliers in that space… then you need a bit of problem definition, so you can type [your needs] in and that goes out to those 10 suppliers and they get back to you. It is more of a comparison website as a front-end, rather than it being a point-and-click Amazon-type scenario.”
He added: “Others will arrive and [the platform] will know: you’re in a school in south-west London, you are an overworked admin assistant, who wants to buy a new photocopier – here is the one everybody buys in your location. There are many different user journeys.”
Alongside the development of a new marketplace, CCS will also be launching new commercial agreements that cover more specific areas than the broad range served by G-Cloud.
The procurement organisation is currently conducting market-engagement exercises for a framework dedicated to cloud hosting and related services. This deal will likely be split into three lots, covering hyperscale hosting, smaller hosting environments, and services.
The aim is to launch this agreement next year. It will likely feature no more than about 1,000 suppliers at the most – compared with the 3,505 firms that secured a spot on G-Cloud 10.
Once the cloud-hosting deal launches, the areas of machine learning, artificial intelligence, analytics and robotic process automation will also be broken out into a smaller dedicated framework outside G-Cloud. This vehicle will likely feature no more than a few hundred specialist providers.
For both the cloud hosting and analytics and AI frameworks, services will, for a time, remain on both G-Cloud and the new agreements. But, ultimately, the goal is for the smaller, specialised deals to serve these areas exclusively.
“Is what we need Amazonesque? I think we need a GoCompare, or a MoneySupermarket… there are many different user journeys.”
Niall Quinn, CCS
The new frameworks are also likely to implement some different commercial features to G-Cloud, according to Quinn.
“The idea is to bring in further competition – because that’s what people want; they want to be able to check three or four [different suppliers],” he said. “We may also bring in longer terms. So, rather than two years, plus one, plus one – if you’re putting records into the cloud, you don’t want to have to repeat that [procurement] all the time – maybe it might be more appropriate to have a five-year term.”
He added: “We also want to try and normalise pricing, as much as possible. All the cloud providers have different attributes inside their pricing… we want to make sure that, when people are comparing prices, they know that this price has [certain features], and this price doesn’t. We will be looking at the Ts and Cs, as well, as some of the older Ts and Cs that government has are not appropriate for the cloud.”
But the CCS technology chief stressed the importance of recognising and retaining G-Cloud’s many virtues.
“G-Cloud is great, and we must never lose sight of why it is successful,” he said. “It is successful because it is easy for suppliers to register, it is easy for customers to use, it is online, it is a catalogue, and it is flexible. It has all the right attributes. We know there are some challenges with it – in that it can be gamed a bit. Because it has grown so large, our view is that we should take some of the stuff and make it into more appropriate chunks.”
He added: “That is about creating more appropriate commercial agreements that give you all the things you want – further competition, specific suppliers, work done around the pricing and the licensing models – rather than just one big, long catalogue. So, we are trying to help be more tailored and targeted for people. For as long as we are on this journey, G-Cloud will remain – but we want to build these smaller targeted agreements instead that will help buyers.”