The government is seeking suppliers for a £2bn procurement framework that will replace Whitehall’s telecommunications requirements, including the Public Services Network (PSN).
The £2bn framework will last four years and will replace the Public Sector Telecommunication Services (PSTS) and Public Services Network 2 (PSN2) – both due to expire early next year.
The Network Services framework will provide access to PSN compliant and non-PSN services and will replace the existing and legacy agreements, including PSN connectivity, PSN services and telephony services.
The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has invited suppliers to tender for places on the Network Services framework, which comprises of 10 lots (see below).
CCS has also made changes to the way suppliers bid for a place on the framework which should make it easier for SMEs to sell services to government.
Mike Thomas, managing director of trade body PSNGB - which was heavily involved in the pre-tender engagement with CCS – told Computer Weekly each lot could have up to 25 suppliers, a substantial increase on the previous frameworks.
The contract notice, which provides information to suppliers wishing to bid, describes a more flexible method where suppliers can bid for each of the 10 lots.
Ten lots within the Network Services framework
- Data Access Service
- Local Connectivity Services
- Traditional Telephony Services
- Inbound Telephony Services
- IP Telephony Solutions
- Mobile Voice & Data Services
- Paging Services
- Video Conferencing
- Audio Conferencing
- Integrated Communications
Previously, if a supplier couldn’t provide all services required in a single lot, they would not be able to bid for position on the framework, but CCS has moved the goal posts and now suppliers will only have to be able to deliver a core service.
Changes to the way suppliers sit on the framework mean there will be more for government organisations to choose from, increasing competition in the marketplace, while the competition process should save on procurement costs, according to PSNGB.
“The new framework moves on the former PSN Services and PSN Connectivity frameworks into a more flexible, more inclusive framework designed for increased flexibility of service offering and greater opportunity for more small to medium enterprise (SME) suppliers to come forward either as prime or sub-contractors,” Thomas said.
Once chosen, a supplier will be free to add additional services to the core to create new bundles of services. This will allow more suppliers to compete as it will not be restricted only to national providers with a broad portfolio.
Good news for SMEs
The increase in suppliers and greater competition should also make it easier for SMEs to provide services to government through the new framework.
Ian Fishwick, SME director of PSNGB explained that, before, SMEs faced a blockage with framework lots which had a long list of necessary products that SMEs often couldn’t extensively provide.
“The longer the list, the more likely it becomes that there is at least one product that an SME cannot provide,” said Fishwick.
“The real danger with this approach is that you might be able to supply 99% of what is required, but you couldn’t bid because of one specialist product that represented a tiny portion of actual government spend. Many SMEs are specialists in a particular area and deliberately don’t attempt to be ‘all things to all men’.”
Now CCS has change these restrictions, meaning larger companies with the scope to supply specialist products will not be the only companies in the race.
“CCS has clearly listened to PSNGB as the new frameworks include lots that have products split into ‘core’ products and ‘supplementary’ products. This means, as long as you can provide the core products. you can bid for that lot. The core products have been deliberately defined as the vanilla, commercial-grade, products that represent the bulk of government spend in that area,” Fishwick said.
Government organisations wishing to procure services through the Network Services framework will be asked to take a "waterfall" approach to procurement. They will be able to either order directly from the catalogue of services – like procuring on G-Cloud – or create a "short form further competition" to find the right supplier. A "further competition" can be run if the requirement is not met.
The framework will also allow customers to procure against multiple lots, or for suppliers to act as "agents" on behalf of the customer to procure from lots that the supplier is not involved with.
Computer Weekly asked the Cabinet Office to comment on when the new framework is likely to go live, but has received no response thus far.
PSN caused a stir among local government organisations who were struggling to come to terms with the inflexible security measures being enforced by the government.
To connect to the Public Services Network (PSN), public bodies - including local councils, government agencies and Whitehall departments - had to ensure their security connections were compliant with a code of connection (CoCo) set by the Cabinet Office. Organisations were given until 1 April 2014 to become CoCo compliant, but three local authorities missed the deadline.
It took another five months before the last council - named as Telford & Wrekin in the West Midlands – finally transitioned on to the PSN framework.
PSNGB said that councils will not have jump through any more hoops to get on to the new Network Services framework. But if the potential supplier wishes to provide PSN services, they must comply with the current PSN compliance and approval processes.