Crown Commercial Service and the Digital Services Framework – CCS in Another Battle

So this third (and hopefully) final part of in our series of “Crown Commercial Service (CCS) contracts that are getting criticised in the media,” we have their Digital Services Framework (DSF2 is the second and latest version).

As we will see, this has come under fire from the market, but has also exposed tensions between CCS and the Government Digital Service (GDS). Chris Chant, ex GDS and one of the founders of the G-Cloud, wants GDS to have more responsibility for procurement activities that currently sit under CCS.

At a recent event, he said: “Create showcases and publish them widely. Create platforms for open collaboration between buyers and suppliers.  And put the Digital Services Framework under Government Digital Service where it belongs.”

Now further issues have surfaced around DSF2, which was due to be launched about now. There are a number of issues. Firstly, the framework is split into a number of lots - developers, designers, user researchers and delivery managers. But that is not how the market works, say insiders. Buyers want a full service, a delivered output or product. And DSF2 seemed to insist on staff working on client sites – again, not the way things work in most cases.

We spoke to Harry Metcalfe, MD of digital services firm dxw, who has been one of the vociferous critics of DSF2.

It has been set up very much as a body-shopping contract. But that’s not the way we work, or how our customers want to use us. We work as a team across developers, designers, and so on. We don’t put people onto client sites to act as interims,” he explains. “It feels like CCS may not value or understand what we do – other than seeing us as attracting talented staff who can then be engaged on a body shop basis.”

Then there is the reverse auction furore. CCS included that as part of the procurement process for DSF2 selection process; but is that appropriate for what does not appear to be a commodity business? I’m sure it is always possible to find a cheaper designer – but are they any good? (See our paper “Three Occasions When Procurement Should Pay More for a lot more on that topic!)

Then there is the question of which services should be included in the G-Cloud 6 catalogue (now part of the “Digital Marketplace”). CCS recently announced that agile services would be removed from G-Cloud 6, which caused a supplier backlash, as the new DSF2 was not considered fit for purpose yet to pick up that sort of requirement.

Now we wrote here and here about the positives and negatives of the G-Cloud from a procurement perspective, and to be fair to CCS, some of what has happened has come from a CCS desire to make sure that G-Cloud is used appropriately in commercial and regulatory terms.

Exploring that point a little further, there is definitely a feeling amongst some of what we might call the G-Cloud evangelists that procurement process simply get in the way of doing exciting, whizzy digital stuff, whereas CCS does have to worry about EU Regulations! So there is evidence that G-Cloud was used in some cases for consulting and non-commoditised work , which was not the intent, and we doubt that mini-competitions were always used in the manner which they should have been.

Having said that, this is a whole new digital world, and clearly the procurement approaches and DSF2 have to reflect this. “There wasn’t much consultation before the letting of the DSF2 contract – we would be very happy to get more involved in the thinking,” says Metcalfe. There was also the embarrassment of someone at CCS not really understanding what they were being asked to do.

“Any supplier who used the word “agile” in their G-Cloud descriptions – even if just as a generic, marketing description of their services – got a communication from CCS saying that product had to be removed from G-Cloud”!                

But now CCS has backed down and said that agile services will remain in the G-Cloud for the moment at least, and other issues have been clarified. Well, actually GDS has said that in their blog:

“Buyers will still be able to contract with single suppliers for whole phases of projects, based on the capability of their team. I can also confirm that having co-located teams has always been at the buyer’s discretion, and will not always be a requirement. We’ll be making sure that buyers are aware that they can take this approach.”

All a bit of a mess, but let’s hope that behind the scenes the relationships between GDS and CCS are working at an operational level. And a couple of final thoughts from Metcalfe.

“We haven’t really go into a position yet where anything much in IT is a true commodity, so procurement needs to reflect that. CCS and GDS need fresh thinking and new approaches, but also should build on the success of G-Cloud. And the industry would be pleased to contribute more to helping achieve that.”

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