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CCS technology products framework to focus on quality, not cost

The Crown Commercial Service’s £4bn technology products and services framework opens up for SMEs and moves focus to quality rather than price

After a series of work with the market, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has decided to open up its technology products and services framework to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Kelvin Lee, CCS category director for technology products and services, tells Computer Weekly there will be no cap on the number of suppliers joining the framework, but that a focus on quality will weed out those not up to scratch.

The second framework, which is due to go live in September 2016 when its first iteration expires, is an evolution from the first, with some significant changes, he says.

The framework will have six lots. While there are some similarities, such as lot 1 and 2 for hardware and software respectively, lot 3 will be a combination of both hardware and software.

Lot 3 has come out of some confusion on the original framework, where suppliers weren’t sure which lot to compete in if they did both.

“We got some feedback saying it was confusing, and we also want to reduce the amount of paperwork for them. If suppliers meet the criteria for lot 1 and 2, they automatically qualify for lot 3,” says Lee.

Lot 4, which is focused on encryption and information assured products, remains mostly the same, but some services on that lot will be transferred out to the cyber security team.

Lot 5, which lets suppliers bid directly for high volume contracts, will stay mostly the same, but CCS will take on a bigger role in driving aggregation and build the pipeline across government.

“It’s not just limited to CCS driving lot 5, but the whole strategy around lot 5 on how we communicate and build a pipeline needs to be improved,” he says.

Opening up to SMEs

The biggest change is the addition of lot 6, which is the catalogue lot with direct contract awards only.

“The only bit that is a revolution is lot 6. Historically, SMEs don’t really get a chance to play in this space, so we’ve developed a catalogue lot with no cap on numbers, lower barriers to entry and much less stringent financial criteria,” says Lee.

In an ideal world, he says, 70% of deals on the framework would go through this lot, but they would only represent 20% of the total value due to the smaller contract sizes.

Lee hopes lot 6 will become a standalone framework if it is a success.

“We will caveat lot 6 and will terminate after the initial time of the agreement, because it works really well. We might want to take it out and make it a standalone where we refresh it every six months and let suppliers join whenever they want,” he says.

Market engagement

The changes have come about after an extensive process of market engagement. CCS quickly realised that, for the framework to be a success, it needed to listen to stakeholders.

CCS has worked with TechUK over the past few months. Through a series of workshops with suppliers and customers, it came up with a set of ideas, which were then opened up to the market where everyone could contribute.

“The intention was to not go out with any preconceived views and just listen,” says Lee.

The ideas were presented back to the market and, following another month of work, CCS began making its decisions.

“We wanted to make sure we listened to what the market wants,” he adds.

Quality over price

Another big change is the focus on quality over price, with a 90-10 split. Lee says this is because CCS is looking for those suppliers that can prove they can do more than just shift products.

While there is no cap on how many suppliers will be awarded a place on the framework, Lee says putting the emphasis on quality “will ensure that CCS have the correct skillset in the correct lot”.

This will make it easier for departments, which can be assured that all suppliers have the right skills and can then do their own competition on the price.

This financial year, CCS aims to deliver savings of between £800m and £1bn, with this framework forming part of it.

The buying organisation also wants to become more transparent and is constantly working to improve its relationships with the market and customers.

“There is still a huge amount of opportunities and communication that needs to be done by CCS around what we do, who we are and what our agreements are,” says Lee.

“We can’t sit in a darkened room, instead we must engage the likes of TechUK and be transparent in how we make decisions and show that these decisions were based on what customers and suppliers told us.”

Public sector growth

Looking forward, Lee says there is still work to do. With a number of government departments locked into long outsourcing deals, Lee says that as they disaggregate, CCS needs to make sure what they’re offering is fit for purpose.

He has also set his eyes on the wider public sector, such as the NHS, police and education.

“A key area is to grow our spend in the wider public sector by 20% in 2016, so we need to understand their recruitments and create a dynamic marketplace for products that are easy to use. If it’s fit for purpose, it can become the preferred way for them to work.”

But realistically, he says, the strategy needs to be joined up.

“We have to prioritise and look at the areas that can bring the most value in the organisations that are willing to work with CCS,” he says.

“We’re not going to fix it all this year, but I feel confident that this agreement represents our customers’ needs more widely.”

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