Last year the government consolidated the marketplace for services falling under the G-Cloud Framework (known as CloudStore) and the marketplace for services falling under the Digital Services Framework (known as the Digital Services Store). The result was the creation of the Digital Marketplace. The purpose of the consolidation was to create a clearer, simpler and faster marketplace for the public sector to buy and SMEs to sell digital products and services.

This week the G-Cloud Framework, which is moving into its sixth year, has faced scrutiny at the Government's Think Cloud for Government conference. The latest iteration, G-Cloud 6 (G6), was the first to go live on the new Digital Marketplace last week. There are 516 new suppliers, bringing the total to 1,852 suppliers providing 19,966 services, taking up the opportunities available through the framework. Given G-Cloud spend has now exceeded £431 million, this is not surprising. The increase in suppliers and services available is great news for public sector bodies who benefit from having the ability to purchase a wider range of competitively priced digital services through a streamlined process.

At Ashfords, we are seeing this in practice and are currently helping clients who have been requested to join the framework by their local authority customers. This is encouraging and we anticipate seeing continued growth of the Digital Marketplace as non-central government bodies start to embed it into their buying procedures.

‘Not a bad job’

The digital frameworks are frequently criticised for having an overly complicated and burdensome application procedure - especially given a key aim is to give SMEs an opportunity to participate in the public sector market. In our view, given that the application process has to accommodate so many varying services and then provide a marketplace with a searchable and auditable procedure for public sector buyers, it is not doing a bad job.  

Although voluminous, the G6 documents are well set out and fairly easy to follow, and those who attended one of the G6 workshops would have had a good idea of what to expect from the application process. Inevitably, there were a number of clarifications  but these were generally answered quickly and clearly. The numerous blog posts were informative and provided a helpful insight into the intended functioning of the marketplace and the buying personas provide a good starting place for those who have little or no experience of selling to the public sector.

SurveyMonkey, the world's leading provider of web-based survey solutions, recognised the importance of being awarded a place on G6 and took advantage of Ashfords' knowledge and experience of the framework. Our lawyers understand how purchasing decisions are made in the public sector and capitalising on this expertise were able to work with SurveyMonkey to produce submissions to three categories in a very economic and efficient way.


Which framework should suppliers be applying to?

Ashfords has also recently helped clients applying to the Digital Services 2 Framework (DS2). This is the next significant milestone in the development of the Digital Marketplace and, given DS1 failed to achieve the success as the G-Cloud Framework, it will be closely followed. To date only 23 contracts have been awarded to 18 suppliers on DS1 and the total value of sales is £13.6 million. Moving DS2 to the Digital Marketplace has gone some way to address this. More significantly however, is that suppliers cannot provide agile/consultancy based services on G6, consequently promoting DS2 as a platform.  

There has been some confusion amongst suppliers as to which framework they should be applying to. The basic distinction is that off-the-shelf cloud-based hardware and software are to be provided through G6 and customised digital services are to be provided through DS2. It is imperative that these questions are considered early to ensure deadlines are met and time is not wasted. In some cases, our clients have even decided that neither framework is going to achieve their objectives.

A further difference between the frameworks is that DS2 has been set up so that only the top 50 bidders will be awarded a place on the framework for a specific line item. A Lowest Price eAuction is being used to rank the bidders, but, disappointingly, full details of the eAuction were not available prior to bid submission. Consequently, bidders have had to submit day rates without fully understanding the eAuction rules and process and the companies we have been working with found this uncertainty confusing and unnerving.

eAuction training sessions are due to take place from 17 March. The main point we will be looking for clarification on is what happens if there are already 50 bidders meeting the minimum day rate. If this is the case, will there be any need for the eAuction at all?

Overall, the Digital Marketplace has made a positive contribution with suppliers benefitting from new business opportunities in this sector, while public sector bodies benefit from access to a wider range of competitively priced cloud services. We look forward to seeing how the marketplace develops in 2015, and in doing so affording new suppliers the opportunity to reap the benefits.

Jenny Hotchin (pictured) is a technology lawyer and market specialist at Ashfords solicitors. She can be contacted at [email protected].