UK government's Digital Marketplace needs to make finding good technology easy

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez April 10, 2014
CloudStore and the Digital Services Store are soon to be folded into one almighty online catalogue

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With the UK's Government Digital Service today celebrating the closure of applications for the fifth round of the G-Cloud, I thought it might be good to take a look at some of the things we can expect from the framework in the future. I sometimes forget that the G-Cloud is only two years old – given how rapidly it has developed. Now racking up more than £120 million worth of sales, most of which has gone to SMEs, the G-Cloud is starting to make some serious headway in disrupting government technology buying processes.

One of the main problems with the G-Cloud, however, still remains to be the CloudStore itself, an online portal that allows government buyers to search for suppliers and services that are listed on the framework. It has already gone through a number of iterations, the first couple of which can only be described as pretty awful to be honest - but the latest version is looking pretty clean, being based on the same design principles as the government's other new digital services, and there have been a number of big improvements to the UX.

However, CloudStore is getting another makeover in the near future. It was recently announced that the G-Cloud and the Digital Services Framework (a separate framework that helps gov departments source digital capabilities – see Liam Maxwell interview here for more info) are going to be rolled into a single all conquering Digital Marketplace for the public sector. The idea being that IT buyers will have a one-stop-shop for all of their new technology needs, where all suppliers and services are put together on a transparent platform that allows for easy comparison of price and functionality.

A GDS blog this week outlined some of the progress that is being made in creating the new online marketplace, which is now moving into the Alpha stage of development. Given that ex-US CIO Vivek Kundra recently told me that the G-Cloud and CloudStore could be a new global model for procurement, I thought some of the features of the soon to be launched Digital Marketplace were worth sharing here for public sector buyers to take a look over.

What are you looking for? 

Before I go further it's worth pointing out, as GDS did in its post, that given the Marketplace is still being developed all of the things mentioned from here on out are subject to change and shouldn't be taken as a given. Having said that, it's nice to have the insight and it is likely that all of these things will play some sort of role going forward, at some point.

Anyway, the crux of what GDS is trying to do is make the technology and services listed on G-Cloud and the Digital Services Framework easy to find and easy to understand. Although this sounds obvious, you have to remember that the government is trying to do something new here and it is bound to take a few goes to get it right. However, what is emerging is actually a searchable site for products and services that is likely going to heavily replicate consumer platforms like eBay and Amazon.

One of the first things that the new Digital Marketplace will address is how 'language' is used to support search. One of the Marketplace's designers, Rebecca Cottrell, explained:

“A problem with the current CloudStore is that it’s tricky to find the same search result twice, because the search results are randomised. We’re working on making it easier to find the service you need by improving browsing and searching.

“One way we’re doing that is by looking at language. The acronyms SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS mean something to those who know, but to those who are new to cloud services they are confusing. To help users understand the phrasing and categorisation, we’re looking at including a full phrase, an explanation of what it means, and some examples (the most popular) of what these services actually are. But even with the full phrase, do our users know what “software as a service” means?”

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Not only this, but GDS is working on prompting users to find out more about products as they are searching for them. So, for example, if somebody searches for 'content management systems', they might be prompted to find out more about them and what is needed to create one. 

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Another tool being developed, which is common on media platforms, is to allow buyers to publicly ask suppliers questions about their listing, which can then be answered in an open forum. Questions and answers can then also be voted on, which will allow the most popular ones to be visible at the top. GDS is also going to try and integrate feedback mechanisms to get users to help and improve the Marketplace as they are buying. Cottrell said:

“Elsewhere, we’re testing lightweight feedback mechanisms so that users can tell us whether whether a product description is informative and contact us details are up to date and accurate. Enough “no” responses will bring problems to our attention, and perform a function of highlighting the most useful information.”

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GDS also said that on commercial retail websites its common to be able to favourite or bookmark items, which it hopes to include by creating 'shortlists' on the Marketplace. These shortlists, instead of just being bookmarks, will also allow users to add an explanation of why they have included it. The aim here is to bring processes that are typically found 'offline', online into the Digital Marketplace.

“We’re currently testing Projects as a way to organise multiple shortlists. For example, if you’re working on creating a website you will need multiple things; including a CMS and hosting. A Project page, which contains shortlists, is one means of organising choices and recording how decisions are made. Later we’ll be designing and testing what adding collaborators to a project (or a shortlist) might look like." 


  • It's useful for buyers to get an insight into what GDS is doing, mostly because it allows for users currently buying from the CloudStore to get involved with the design. There are comments emerging already on the GDS blog.
  • One thing that is still missing that hasn't been mentioned is the ability for buyers to provide public feedback and ratings on suppliers and their products. Not sure if this is to avoid any legal disputes with suppliers, but I'm sure buyers would find it a useful tool.
  • GDS has admitted that some buyers find pricing confusing on the CloudStore because the prices shown aren't often what buyers end up paying. This is probably because they aren't taking the standard, off the shelf product. GDS is now asking whether pricing should be removed from the Marketplace – but I think this is a terrible idea. Transparent pricing has been one of the most useful tools in government buying over the past couple of years.
  • Making the technology easy to find and making it easy to understand is fundamentally important for the future success of cloud and digital in government. If buyers face friction, they will revert back to their old procurement practices.
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