In a battle of wills, and bureaucracy, it seems that the Government Digital Service (GDS) may finally be taking a stand with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) on the design and the structure of the current G-Cloud and Digital Services Frameworks, after a confusing week for buyers and suppliers.
From what we're told by authoritative sources, CCS is set to make an embarrassing retraction, after having sent out letters telling suppliers that all agile development services were being stripped from the G-Cloud frameworks and the Digital Marketplace.
Those sources tell us that GDS doesn't want the CCS assurance team to continue down this route, given the criticism that was thrown at the Digital Services Framework over the past week, where suppliers labelled it a cheap 'body-shop' that didn't fulfil the digital needs of government departments.
Despite the decision being made earlier on in the week to keep agile services on the G-Cloud, whilst the Digital Services Framework is redesigned, CCS was still sending emails to suppliers yesterday afternoon 'clarifying' that it was indeed 'true' that agile development services were being stripped from the Digital Marketplace.
One may ask how closely aligned these two organisations actually are, given that they are supposed to be working together to drive transformations and create efficiencies across Whitehall.
For those unaware – GDS is ultimately in charge of the G-Cloud and Digital Services Framework programmes and CCS is responsible for procurement support. However, it has been explained to me that CCS can say 'no' to GDS if it feels that the organisation's decisions could expose government to unwanted legal challenges.
What should have been a test in agile decision making based on community feedback, with CCS and GDS coordinating to establish a best outcome, turned out to be an example how digital progress can easily be blocked by old-school government thinking and bureaucratic processes.
The end result, however, is likely to mean that buyers across government will continue to be able to purchase agile development services from the G-Cloud and Digital Marketplace, whilst discussions take place about what is needed to fix the Digital Services Framework.
The problems for GDS and CCS started when Harry Metcalfe, MD at design agency dxw, wrote a blog post that heavily criticised the second iteration of the Digital Services Framework. DSF was intended to complement the pretty successful G-Cloud, whereby G-Cloud was meant to supply off the shelf commodity software, whilst the Digital Services Framework was meant to provide complex digital capabilities for projects in Whitehall.However, given the poor design of the Digital Services Framework, buyers had been going to the G-Cloud to purchase their agile development services, given the promise of easy purchasing.
Understandably, the threat of stripping such services off the G-Cloud and having the Digital Services Framework as the only option, didn't bring too much praise from anyone.
We have been made aware that buyers don't want to go anywhere near the Digital Services Framework, but are being pushed in that direction by procurement teams.
These debates coincided with Chris Chant's fantastic Unacceptable 2 speech at the Think Cloud for Government conference in London last week, which was a follow up to a speech a few years ago that highlighted the inadequacies of Whitehall IT purchasing and prompted the drive for cloud buying via the G-Cloud.
Chant was one of the original creators of the G-Cloud and was ruthless in ensuring its success before leaving government to set up his own consultancy firm.
In his Unacceptable 2 speech, Chant insisted that the Crown Commercial Service's culture was that seen in old-school government, where he said that it had messed up the design of the Digital Services Framework, and he urged for CCS to be scrapped as an organisation, to ensure the future success of digital in Whitehall.
His calls for the dismantling of the Crown Commercial Service were met with strong support by the digital community that is involved with government and has left the organisation with a lot to prove.
Which is why the expected, and rather embarrassing, change in direction will do CCS no favours.
To summarise what we know to date:
- I was told yesterday morning that CCS was stripping agile services from the G-Cloud and Digital Marketplace.
- This was confirmed by an email sent to me by a supplier.
- I then asked the Cabinet Office if this was true, and was told that this was not going to be the case.
- This was confirmed by others that had heard similar comments from GDS.
- However, suppliers were at the same time still receiving emails from CCS stating that agile services WERE being stripped.
- Which we now understand not to be the case and an announcement is expected imminently from GDS.
- This will likely come in the form of a blog from the G-Cloud program director Tony Singleton.
- It's unclear whether CCS will miss any statement or will be re-contacting those parties it emailed previously.
Here we have a situation where it's coming across that the Cabinet Office's PR team actually knows more about what's going on than the procurement assurance team within CCS – which isn't good for anyone.
We need a commercial team in government that doesn't drive the fear of legal challenges into procurement teams across Whitehall and is simply focused on driving out cost. We need one that understands that a value based outcome design for frameworks is the way forward and can figure out innovative ways to meet the needs of buyers.
The much expected decision from GDS to force CCS to stop stripping agile services will be one of the first public indications of where the power lies for digital transformation in Whitehall.
The fallout will be interesting to watch.
Your move CCS...