The death of the Digital Marketplace? G-Cloud 9 extended as new platform in the works

SUMMARY:

The news has received a mixed reaction – some say it’s a betrayal of G-Cloud and Digital Marketplace principles, whilst others expect longer term benefits.

The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) today announced that it would be extending the latest G-Cloud framework – G-Cloud 9 – by another year, as it plans to build a new platform to support its digital frameworks. This means that the most recent G-Cloud framework will have been live for up to two years with not iteration, a far cry from the original principle that buyers and sellers would get access to new services ‘every six months’.

Does this mean the death of the Digital Marketplace, which currently hosts the digital frameworks used in government and was touted as the future platform for buying digital in the public sector?

CCS said that it hadn’t taken the decision lightly and the news has been met with a mixed response from stakeholders. Whilst some see it as short term pain for long term gain (suppliers already on the framework will also get some respite from incoming competition), others see it as a betrayal of the founding principles of the G-Cloud framework.

It has also been questioned why a new platform for digital frameworks couldn’t be developed in conjunction with the iteration of the framework.

Other frameworks, including Digital Outcomes and Specialists 2 and Cyber Security Services 2, have also been extended.

In its extension notification, CCS said:

The decision to extend G-Cloud is not being taken lightly. It will allow time for CCS and GDS to deliver a revolutionary transformation to the platform to meet more user needs – both central government and wider public sector.

Previously, we have undertaken continuous and regular refreshes for each of the individual agreements. However, this hasn’t always given us adequate time for the Digital Marketplace to be developed beyond simply the refresh of these agreements, to meet identified user needs. More time is now needed to transform the platform and make it scalable and more flexible, enabling more framework services and improved customer and supplier functionality based on what user needs have identified.

Working alongside GDS embracing open procurement for digital government principles, we want to improve procurement for our users.

Supplier and customer feedback has told us that you don’t just want the agreements refreshed ‘as is’. Rather than looking at each agreement individually, we are introducing a more holistic approach to common technology goods and services. We have taken your feedback very seriously, and we are developing a roadmap to improve the end-to-end buyer and supplier journey, as well as the broad needs of CCS from a policy, strategic category, sourcing and operations perspective.

CCS said that it will be specifically focusing on:

  • Scalability: multiple agreements for discrete groups of services
  • Introducing consistent, standard yet flexible contracting model options
  • Improved categorisation for technology services; on search, filter and finding services
  • Better MI capture and improved data flows, reducing data entry duplication
  • Improving the end-to-end journey for customers and suppliers
  • Dynamic: make new agreements or services available, quickly
  • More flexibility during the lifetime of the agreements: on services, pricing and term

Why is this important?

Unsurprisingly, the response to a two year G-Cloud framework hasn’t been met with the greatest level of enthusiasm. The G-Cloud when launched was revolutionary for public sector buyers, as it allowed them access to a catalogue of digital products that were refreshed constantly, and lowered the entry point for many UK SMEs. A number of businesses have been built off the back of the G-Cloud and it is now a £2 billion framework.

Rapid iterations of the G-Cloud framework agreement keeps the market competitive, allows for prices to be reduced regularly and allows companies to apply to join the framework (in theory) every six months. A two year wait in the world of cloud is quite a long time.

This means that new companies won’t be able to join until the new framework and platform are launched, it means that those already on the framework won’t be able to launch new services, and it means that buyers won’t have access to the latest innovations in the market.

I am told that CCS is planning a new ‘Crown Marketplace’, which will be an ambitious, dynamic new platform for all framework agreements across the public sector – and is set to go to tender soon. This, as a result, is likely to mean the end of the Digital Marketplace as we know it and raises questions about the Government Digital Service’s current involvement (it has been a collaborative effort between GDS and CCS to date).

I am also told that the Digital Marketplace currently requires too much development work to make any significant changes and that the new platform will look to include features such as dynamic pricing and rapid service introduction.

Ultimately, there’s improvements to be made – for sure – but the question remains whether or not the G-Cloud 9 extension decision was a sensible one.

The response

As noted above, the response has been mixed. Advice Cloud, procurement specialists and G-Cloud consultants, which is made up of familiar names that include Tony Singleton (former head of G-Cloud), Chris Farthing and Jos Creese, put out a blog post that aimed to focus on the positives. It said:

A bombshell it is not (sort of saw this coming after what happened with DOS back in October) but now at least official, G-Cloud 9 has been extended.

We are certainly not blind to the potential drawbacks this has both on the SME supplier community already on the framework (no changes to pricing!) or what this means from new innovative SMEs waiting for their chance to sell. And, yes we are planning to write something about this in due time. But for now we decided lets not lament the news. Rather let’s start with the positives. Let’s continue onwards and upwards and see the opportunity the extension presents to those on the framework.

Advice Cloud said that some of the positives of extra time include – no new competitors for those already on the framework, more time to understand the problems of the public sector, time to get your organisation clued up on G-Cloud and how to use it, time to build your contacts with buyers, and a chance to beef up your case studies.

Equally, Steve Parks, lead at boutique agency Convivio, and someone that is clued up on public sector buying, tweeted that an extension isn’t the biggest problem:

However, Harry Metcalfe over at digital agency dxw, which has had a lot of success in the public sector, and has recruited multiple people from GDS, was less than impressed. He tweeted:

Peter Middleton, one of the members of the founding G-Cloud team, and now director at Cloudline, expressed dismay at the decision. He said:

“There are no excuses to tear up the contract of trust that had been established, and which until weeks ago was still in place, namely vendors have developed planning cycles around G-Cloud iterations, and new vendors are right now investing in advice and guidance to help them move into public sector markets.

“Making short-sighted decisions, that have negative implications for SMEs and for buyers, as this locks out new vendors – with the promise of some undefined prize, and benefits, is in my view a betrayal of the stated policies to make procurement more dynamic, agile and user friendly. The only way to do this is through incremental improvements, being open and listening to buyers and suppliers.

“I get that suppliers already are likely to be less vocal, but that is letting CCS and GDS off the hook. We as vendors should be jumping up and down to encourage and speed up the pace of change, not close down what was a stand up success for buyers and suppliers.”

Whilst David James Biden, delivery director at notbinary.co.uk, pointed out that the principles of Agile Development, which is supposed to be core to how the government creates new services, should allow for both a new platform and an iteration of the framework to happen in conjunction:

I’m awaiting further comment from others, so please check here for updates.

My take

Like most, I can see the benefit of a new platform that is dynamic, scalable and includes new features, such as dynamic pricing. My concerns are, however, that two years is a long time for buyers (and sellers) to wait for a fresh framework. A lot happens in two years in the digital world and whilst it would be hyperbolic to lament this as a disaster, it’s not good enough to be standing still when the whole point of the G-Cloud was to transform public sector procurement into something dynamic.

I’m also concerned that there is some political wrangling going on here. CCS has been known to want to take control and I worry that this is an attempt to move away from collaboration with GDS – not because I think one is better than the other, but because if we are doing this because it’s a political/control move, then that’s not why the decision should be made. Equally, as we progress with Brexit negotiations and the exit from the EU – where new systems will be needed – is this a good time to be refreshing public sector procurement? Maybe, but I’m not convinced.

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