CCS published contract notice seeking suppliers for 54-month deal
By opening bids on a new £50m framework, the government has taken a decisive next step in migrating from the Vodafone platform “at the heart of the Public Services Network”.
Government’s longer-term ambition is to move away from PSN entirely.
But, in the meantime, exiting its long-term GSI Convergence Framework (GCF) relationship with Vodafone is a “tactical solution for a subset of services”.
The Crown Commercial Service has said that GCF “is not a CCS procurement framework, but a Vodafone technology platform”.
Having first been implemented in 2011, GCF expired as far back as 2015 but, via a series of incremental contract renewals, government has retained Vodafone to provide domain name system services, email relay, and peer-to-peer to gateway services.
The latter set of services has now been shut down, but the mobile operator remains under contract until March 2021 to provide PSN users with DNS and email relay offerings.
By that time, the government will have replaced GCF with the newly launched PSN Core Services framework – for which bidding has now opened, following the publication of a contract notice.
The deal is due to run for four and a half years, beginning in June of this year and ending in late 2024. It is comprised of two lots, each of which will be awarded to a single supplier – which could be the same firm, or two different providers.
Date when Vodafone’s GCF platform will be taken out of commission
Date when replacement services are expected to complete testing and be ready for adoption
Potential worth of PSN Core Services framework
Potential length of framework
Maximum number of suppliers that will be appointed – one for each lot
The first section is dedicated to DNS services. This covers technology that can “reconcile website names and their underlying IP addresses”, allowing for secure connections between PSN and sites hosted on the public internet.
The second lot addresses email relay and “mail hygiene” services, enabling delivery of mail between PSN and the internet.
The cumulative value of the framework across its lifespan is an estimated £44.6m, plus VAT – although the worth of each lot is pegged at a possible £30.5m.
Bids for the spot on the procurement vehicle are open until 23 March, ahead of a scheduled start date of 16 June.
The contract notice said: “The framework contract will be established from execution – [the] signing of the framework contract – and the services will commence from the service go-live date. Prior to the service go-live date, there will be an initial six months which will allow for the implementation plan and testing stage during which the supplier will build [and] bespoke their solution and, upon achieving [that], a migration go-live date.”
If the contract goes live on the scheduled date, this will mean that, once the testing stage is complete, public sector users that are currently reliant on PSN-related services delivered by Vodafone will have about three to four months to migrate to one of the newly appointed suppliers – or move away from PSN entirely – before the GCF platform is shut down in March 2021.
A history of public service
The Public Services Network has been in operation since 2012 and is designed as a “high-performance network which helps public sector organisations work together, reduce duplication and share resources”.
It allows public sector entities to use suppliers and services that have been accredited as compliant. According to the network’s performance dashboard, there are currently 38 suppliers to have achieved compliance across a total of 92 services.
According to online guidance: “The PSN uses a ‘walled garden’ approach, which enables access to internet content and shared services to be controlled. This is because the security of any one user connected to the PSN affects both the security of all other users and the network itself.”
However, three years ago the Government Digital Service announced that such a tightly managed network was no longer a necessity, and that using the public internet was secure and reliable enough in most cases.
“For the vast majority of the work that the public sector does, the internet is OK,” it said. “We’re on a journey away from the PSN.”
No deadline has been set for the completion of such a journey, but GDS last year published its detailed guidance on how any why public sector bodies should leave behind PSN and adopt “modern network solutions” – chiefly cloud services.
Included in this advice is information on cybersecurity and network infrastructure requirements, as well as case studies from organisations that have already completed their migration process.