The Crown Marketplace – Vision, a Successful Pilot and Broad Functionality

As this week sees the ground-breaking Public Spend Forum public technology symposium in Washington DC (you can still register here for online access), we thought it was a good time to feature the most critical procurement technology project in that sector in the UK.

This isn't our first coverage of this programme though. We published one of our “humourous” articles – a series of two in fact – a little while ago, all about the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) Marketplace supplier day, which took place back in July. As most readers will know, CCS is the UK central government’s collaborative buying organisation.

But in reality, their plan to build and implement a technology platform – the Crown Marketplace - is not a matter for too much levity. The Marketplace is potentially an important tool to improve public procurement performance and efficiency, and it is also important as a potential success to help CCS to demonstrate its credibility after a fairly torrid couple of years. The wider CCS team has been unwinding the previous operating model, and handing work back to client departments, while extending contracts more than the NAO thinks is appropriate and has had recent problems with key frameworks. So CCS needs a high-profile success.

The aim is to provide what will presumably be a cloud-based platform that contains details of CSS contracts and frameworks for common goods and services – those that virtually all public bodies buy. It may also include the capability for users to access deals put in place by other collaborative procurement organisations, and even local agreements let by each user organisation itself. Users, who include potentially every and any public sector body in England, can then access all these contracts and place orders and manage the transaction via the platform.

The functionality defined in the briefing document for suppliers also includes capabilities so that users can run basic sourcing exercises (call-off competitions form the frameworks), use the platform as a basic P2P system, make payments and manage e-Invoicing and link their orders and other data with their own internal (or shared service) ERP systems. It also needs to handle dynamic pricing and updates from suppliers easily – this will not be data that just sits in the database unchanged for years.

CCS already has a pilot up and running. The “Purchasing Platform” is handling IT equipment plus office supplies, and the technology behind it comes from Mercato Solutions, a Birmingham based firm we know quite well (see our article here). It seems to be running well, although functionality is somewhat limited compared to what will eventually be required in the full “Marketplace” – for instance, organisations cannot limit their users to buying certain preferred items. However, some basic payment mechanisms are now included too and the pilot can be considered a success, we believe.

Back to the supplier day, which was attended by a wide range of firms, as we reported here, ranging through procurement tech firms, large BPO providers, consulting firms, payment specialists, and giants like Apple and Virgin.  CCS believes that the winning bid for the Marketplace is likely to come from a consortium rather than a single firm – we will explore the reasons for that in more detail in part 2, but one driver is the recognition that user adoption is critical to this programme’s success, and that needs change management and other skills rather than just technology know-how.

Anyway, the concept and vision is hard to argue with. However, there are some critical issues, any of which could cause serious deliverability issues for the programme, and we’ll be back in part 2 to take a look at some of those. But before then, who do we think will win the tender? Here are just some of the comments we have heard bouncing around the bars of Westminster …

“It’s bound to be Mercato – the pilot is going pretty well”.

Basware / Procserve must be in with a good shout with Amabel working there”.

“CCS really like the Coupa product”.

“McKinsey have friends in very high places”.

“None of the software firms will take the risk themselves so it will be someone with deep pockets fronting it”.

We’re actually encouraged by the lack of a clear leader in the rumour stakes – that might mean this will  actually be a genuinely fair competition – we will see. But has anyone on the CCS team subscribed to Spend Matters PRO? I mean, you can’t seriously pretend to be identifying the best procurement technology products without reading the best analysis in the world on the topic, surely?

We’ll be back with part 2 soon.

Discuss this:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.