GDS reopening bidding for £80m Notify engagements and seeks network resilience for 1.5bn annual message requirement

Cabinet Office digital unit publishes early engagement notice outlining intent to appoint two providers, with requirement that combination of suppliers are jointly able to meet ‘redundancy requirements’ for messaging service

The Government Digital Service is planning to invite bids from suppliers interested in supporting the public sector’s use of the GOV.UK Notify platform to send an estimated 1.5 billion text messages each year.

GDS has published a commercial engagement notice outlining its intent to go to market shortly seeking two SMS service providers to support the operation of Notify. For the last few years, the platform – which is used by public bodies to send millions of text messages each day – has largely worked with the same two firms: mobile marketing specialists MMG and FireText, with contracts renewed at the start of each financial year. The 2022/23 year – when an additional supplier, Reach, was added to the mix appears to have been an exception.

In going to market to relaunch an open bidding process, GDS ultimately hopes to identify and appoint two suppliers. The engagement notice makes clear that each firm should operate independently and rely on separate underlying architecture, to better ensure resilience of the overall service.

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“To meet Notify’s SMS redundancy requirements the suppliers should utilise independent computing and network infrastructures throughout their respective end-to-end services, avoiding any single points of failure that could simultaneously impact both providers,” the notice says. “Suppliers are asked to provide sufficient information in their responses to enable GDS to evaluate this.”

Procurement records show that the incumbent suppliers have signed a series of one-year deals with GDS, the most recent of which run until 31 March 2024 and are each valued at up to £38.7m – adding up to a cumulative total of £77.4m.

Spending via the contract is not guaranteed but, rather, suppliers are paid per message sent.

The projected value of these deals has risen steadily as usage of Notify has increased. Having sent its fist message in May 2016 and launched more widely the following year, the GDS-developed platform is now used to send an average of two million messages every single day – equating to a yearly tally of 730 million.

Notify is used by 7,100 individual teams across 1,300 public sector bodies. On its busiest days, the service handles up to seven million messages and, according to specification documents provided by GDS, and estimated individual SMS messages – known as fragments – will be sent during the 2024/25 year.

“The notifications are typically status updates, requests for action, MFA codes, receipts of applications or supporting information, and reminders. The messages are sent via an API or manually through a web interface,” the specification says. “Many Notify services send messages that are longer than one fragment and the average message sent via Notify is four fragments long.  Notify SMS messages have a high average delivery rate of 96.5%.”

It adds: “Notify uses two concurrently integrated SMS suppliers to ensure a resilient service. Typically, traffic is shared between the two based on supplier performance (speed of processing) and load. Ultimately GDS reserves the right to allocate work between suppliers at its absolute discretion and there is no guarantee of volume as it’s influenced by both government policy and how the services choose to use Notify.”

Suppliers have until 6 November to respond and take part in the engagement exercise, the findings from which will be used to inform any future formal procurement process. GDS indicated that it wishes to hear from the market to better understand the supplier landscape and capabilities, as well as the variety of options for routes to market and implications for cost.

Credit: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

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