Suppliers urged to call out departments flouting new procurement guidelines

Government commercial representatives tell tech firms to speak up if their customers are ignoring new DDaT Playbook

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Suppliers have been urged to “speak up” if they encounter departments that are not following new government guidelines on technology procurement and digital projects.

Unveiled two weeks ago, the Digital, Data and Technology Playbook sets out 11 “key policy reforms which will transform how we assess, procure and manage our products and services”. The document, which was published by government’s DDaT profession, covers areas such as project pipelines, assessment processes for suppliers and delivery models, contract structures, and the need to commit to open standards and tackling legacy IT.

The goal is to ensure that those charged with delivering technology projects and the development of digital services “get things right from the start… [thereby] enabling us to avoid costly mistakes later on”.

All future DDaT projects undertaken by central government departments and their agencies are expected to adhere to the measures set out in the document “on a ‘comply or explain’ basis”. For organisations across the broader public sector, the guidance is “expected to be taken into account”.

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At an event to launch the playbook – hosted last week by industry body techUK in its London offices – the senior officials that oversaw the creation of the policy document told an audience largely comprised of supplier representatives that their support will be essential in ensuring the efficacy of the new guidelines.

Government chief commercial officer Gareth Rhys Williams said: “We are training people to use it – but this is not a machine that runs consistently; it will take a long time. If government agencies are not following the playbook, then please speak up; it is really important that we embed this, so it is part of the muscle memory.”

Meryl Bushell, one of the roster of Crown Representatives that oversees government’s relationship with a small number of designated strategic suppliers, echoed Rhys Williams’s call for what she jokingly referred to as “snitching”. To help enable providers to offer feedback on the implementation of the procurement policies, government will maintain the industry forum jointly established with techUK to help inform the content of the playbook.

“If you come across some public body that is not, to your mind, adhering to the principles of the playbook then, first of all, speak to them,” she said. “If that doesn’t get you anywhere, please escalate it locally at first – either through techUK or come directly to us.”

Tech suppliers could play a particularly important in role in promoting the guidance in sectors such as healthcare and local government.

Bushell added: “We are not resourced to hand-hold all of the public sector, and we do not have the remit to do that. We hope there will be a bit of a pull as well as a push [to drive adoption of the playbook].”

The “push” from government will include several training initiatives, including two-hour sessions offering an overview of the principles of the procurement guidelines and the requirements for public bodies. These will be supplemented by “deep dives” which will be available to those who want to explore in more detail the playbook’s policies and how to implement them. Learning materials will also shortly be made available on GOV.UK, Bushell said.

“We need to make sure that the messages and policies in this playbook are understood by all of the digital community, operations community, and commercial community, and all of the policy people in departments and ALBs,” she added. “We know it will take time for this to happen.”

In a panel discussion that took place at the techUK event, an audience member suggested that existing government funding models – and the huge importance to departments of the spending review every three years – is not always conducive to the effective delivery of digital projects, given the pace of technological development and the desire to adhere to agile methodologies.

In response, Joanna Davinson, executive director of the Central Digital and Data Office and head of government’s DDaT function, said that “I think there is an understanding that [change] is needed – certainly in the digital communities across government”.

“We are working proactively with the Treasury at the moment to work out how and on what timeframe,” she added. “It is quite hard, because the funding rules we work from are so deeply embedded across [government]. Certainly, from a DDaT perspective, we need to shift our approach to supporting service-centric ways of working. There is an understanding that something needs to change – and there is even something of an understanding of what needs to change. We just need to address the ‘how’.”


Sam Trendall

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