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SMEs urged to get on board with Network Services 2 framework

Suppliers have until the end of January 2019 to sign up to the new government network services purchasing framework

The government’s £5bn Network Services 2  RM3808 purchasing framework went live over Christmas, with a deadline of the end of January 2019 for suppliers to sign up to offer telecoms and network services to the UK public sector. As usual, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is keen to encourage SME suppliers to get involved.

The framework replaces Network Services 1 from July 2019 and, like its predecessor, will be used by all the UK public sector, associated bodies and agencies, the voluntary sector, charities and other private organisations acting as managing agents, or procuring on behalf of the public sector to deliver public services.

It comprises 13 lots: data access services, local connectivity services, traditional telephony services, inbound telephony services, IP telephony services, mobile voice and data services, paging and alerting services, video conferencing services, audio conferencing services, unified communications, radio services, security and surveillance services and contact centre services.

In line with the government’s ambition to increase engagement with SME technology suppliers in the public sector – up to a stated goal of one-third of total spending – Ieuan Trigger, CCS category director for networks, said a number of changes had been made for the new framework.

“Firstly, we’ve simplified the Ts & Cs and put them in plain English, and provided a consultation with suppliers to make sure there’s nothing too onerous,” he said. “Where we can remove things, we have. Hopefully, that’ll encourage smaller suppliers to bid and make it a more level playing field.”

Before Network Services 1 – released in 2015 – very few SMEs had taken part in the process, and over the framework’s lifetime, the CCS had seen a “significant increase in spend flowing to them”, said Trigger.

Among the more notable tweaks for the second-generation framework is an increase in contract lengths specifically for fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks. Acknowledging that the payback in terms of delivering gigabit FTTP services is realised in the longer term, the CCS is upping the standard contract from five years to 10 following extensive consultation with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the wider national FTTP broadband roll-out.

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Building on the Government Digital Service’s January 2017 proclamation that “the internet is OK” for the vast majority of the work done by the public sector, Network Services 2 has also been designed to offer flexibility for different public sector organisations depending on how far along the transition from the old Public Services Network they have gone.

“What we’re trying to offer is a broad range of telecoms services, services where the internet is OK to apps that are internet-facing and where departments and organisations are able to put services on the internet,” said Trigger. “Where customers are not ready to go on that journey and want to put in WAN or SDN [software-defined networking] for a period of time, the agreement will allow suppliers to do so.”

The CCS is also increasing the number of suppliers that can be involved in specific lots, notably around data access services and wide area network (WAN) services, and unified communications.

Network Services 2 will also include the provision of Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) services through supporting infrastructure. This means that the HSCN Access Services DPS will remain in place for the time being, for the provision of HSCN connectivity only, giving customers a specialist marketplace and tailored tender documentation.

“We’ve put in an agreement with NHS Digital to enable the transition of HSCN that will continue to run in parallel,” said Trigger. “However, if you’re a supplier of HSCN services, we’re encouraging you to come onto the new agreement, as, over time, we will look to close HSCN and bring it into a more standard approach.”

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