For the past couple of years two platforms have been in operation to facilitate and encourage the public sector to purchase digital services. CloudStore provided the marketplace for services falling under the G-Cloud Framework (G-Cloud) and the Digital Services Store provided the marketplace for services under the Digital Services Framework.
Last week the government announced the consolidation of these two platforms into one new Digital Marketplace.
Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said: "We know that the range of frameworks and stores can be confusing. That’s why the new Digital Marketplace, which makes it clearer, simpler and faster for the whole of the public sector to buy digital products and services when it needs to, is a vast improvement for both supplier and customer."
The statement by Francis Maude alluded to the criticism that both frameworks have involved an overly complicated and burdensome application procedure for suppliers. Despite this, in the case of G-Cloud (which covers off-the-shelf, cloud-based services), the numbers speak for themselves. Cumulative sales at September 2014 were £314 million. 53.4 percent (or £168 million) were contracts awarded to small and medium enterprises.
The framework may not be without fault but it is starting to level the playing field and open up the market in public sector digital procurement. Central government currently makes up 80 percent of sales, and as G-Cloud's popularity continues to grow among the wider public sector, sales will continue to rise.
G-Cloud 6 is currently open for applications by suppliers in accordance with the following:
The first step is to sign up to the CCS BravoSolution tool to register an expression of interest.
Following this, suppliers must answer the invitation to tender (ITT) and submit company and service details using the service submission portal (SSP). Finally, assurance checks will be made and, if accepted, the services will be published on the Digital Marketplace on the on the commencement date.
For those suppliers already registered under G-Cloud 4 (expiring January 2015) or G-Cloud 5 (expiring May 2015), a new tender will need to be completed if they want to continue to supply services in the Digital Marketplace after the current framework has expired. All existing suppliers are encouraged to re-apply and take advantage of the opportunity to update service descriptions to remain competitive.
As a result of the revised Government Security Classification Scheme, G-Cloud 6 will take a new approach whereby suppliers will need to answer a series of predefined security questions and may be subject to random quality checks. It should also be noted that agile development, hardware and non-cloud related consultancy and colocation services have all been removed from the scope of G-Cloud. Suppliers of these services should look to other appropriate frameworks (for example Digital Services 2).
The Digital Services Framework covers different services to those provide through G-Cloud (for example, agile software development services). It was recently announced that the current Digital Services Framework has been extended to 31 March 2015, although we are expecting the Digital Services 2 procurement to be launched sometime this month.
To date, the Digital Services Framework has not generated the same level of sales as G-Cloud. According to G-Cloud and Digital Commercial programme director Tony Singleton, one of the objectives of the new Digital Marketplace is to create "a single place to go for cloud-based software, infrastructure, platforms, and the people and teams needed to help design and build digital services on a per-project or phase basis". It would appear that the Government Digital Service are hoping the consolidation of the two platforms will help the Digital Services Framework enjoy the same level of success as G-Cloud.
Answer all the questions
In the case of both procurements, if a supplier does not meet the relevant dates, criteria or complete the application process correctly they will not have an opportunity to submit services to the Digital Marketplace until the next iteration of the relevant framework. Potentially this could be up to 12 months later. It is imperative that suppliers understand the process and mandatory requirements, including answering all questionnaires and aligning supplier terms and conditions to the framework.
For G-Cloud 6, suppliers should monitor the eTendering Portal and the 'Questions and Answers' document as such may affect the information supplied in the tender. It may be best to wait until responses to clarification questions have been published before tender submission.
To gain a competitive edge suppliers should read the Digital Marketplace blog for hints and tips such as how to draft service descriptions and understanding the public sector purchaser. It may also be helpful to read the guidance published for purchasers advising how to search and shortlist suppliers.
Jenny Hotchin is a technology lawyer and technology market specialist at Ashfords. She can be contacted at [email protected]
Image credit: Ashfords LLP