More on Crown Marketplace – NOT the End of Digital Enablement for CCS Contracts

We reported on Thursday last week that the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has halted the tendering process for the Crown Marketplace, the platform that was intended to enable access to CCS contacts and frameworks for buyers around the public sector.

There was consternation amongst the bidders – we believe there were around 7 or 8, probably including SAP Ariba, Basware, Tradeshift, Mercato, Virtualstock, and possibly Proactis, Jaegger and one or two more.

The original vision was a single digital platform that many different suppliers and contracts could sit within, enabling a range of public sector buyers to place orders, run call-off competitions, even make payments. It was a “bold” vision, as we reported, and there were doubts about whether any provider had existing capability to meet the requirements fully.

But we reported back in January that CCS might be heading down a somewhat different route, looking perhaps at a number of smaller category-specific  “marketplaces” – or more accurately,  e-tools that were appropriate for each more specific category area. However, when CCS decided to go to market (using the G-Cloud / Digital Marketplace mechanism) in April we thought that maybe “plan A” was back in favour again.

However, it looks like CCS finally decided against the single platform vision in the end, and notified suppliers yesterday that the call-off competition was being cancelled. “A decision has been made to focus – at least in the short term – on successfully delivering digital projects which are already underway”.

“Delivering” is a key word there. We suspect Malcolm Harrison and John Manzoni have become frustrated with the pace of progress here. That may be linked to the news that Matt Denham, CCS Executive Director in charge of the programme, will be leaving in July. We also understand that all the contractors working on the programme are leaving – they may be gone already, as we heard there were “leaving drinks” going on at the end of last week!

We also understand that the proposals received from bidders were not evaluated – however, that does not mean they weren’t studied and analysed. Presumably, there must have been something about those proposals that was the final straw for the programme – we don’t know what that was, but we may find out at some point! Harrison is certainly a man who cares about not wasting money; and we suspect he would also want to do the decent thing and sort out long-standing issues before his successor takes over from him shortly, rather than handing over too many poisoned chalices. Credit is due to him for that.

Despite this decision, we also hear that significant investment will continue in what may or may not be called the “Crown Marketplace”.  The different “enabling digital tools” (our terminology) for different contracts or categories might at some stage be brought together under a single “platform umbrella” at some point (can you have a “platform umbrella?).

However, even that vision doesn’t sound like a single marketplace in the way most people would perceive it. But you can imagine a single user interface maybe, perhaps common payment mechanisms ... so who knows, perhaps one day the collection of tools might be close to a single marketplace vision again.

But Harrison’s successor will have to decide whether to keep that Crown Marketplace terminology if indeed we end up with a series of e-tools supporting different category areas. Personally, we feel a name change would seem sensible. The “brand” has lost a lot of credibility here, so it might be better to re-orient the strategy, the delivery programme, and the nomenclature at the same time.

We also believe that responsibility for the work will come back into the “core” CCS technology function, rather than the separate structure we saw under Denham. It is also a chance to correct the anomaly that Denham was both programme director and SRO (senior responsible officer) for the programme, a duality that is not considered good practice these days.

Is this good news for Mercato, who provide the technology for the existing CCS “purchasing platform”?  Or for Basware, whose ProcServe marketplace is used in much of the public sector? We’ll have to wait and see …

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Voices (3)

  1. Bill Athetill:

    Would bidders have grounds for a challenge on this one? If the bids haven’t even been evaluated, then, surely, they never intended to award a contract? There are some big players here (SAP Ariba for one…) who may feel aggrieved to have burned through internal budgets to have bid for a requirement which didn’t exist? Seriously, someone needs to be held to account beyond Matt Denham? Overall credibility is in the toilet.

    1. Dan:

      There will no doubt be some weasel words in the tender documents reserving the right to cancel at any time, not being liable for any tendering costs etc.

    2. Secret Squirrel:

      I don’t understand how this was ever allowed to fly. I suspect it doesn’t have a good old HM Treasury style business case nor an OGC style Gateway process. What it had was probably the same hopes and dreams of Zanzibar (what a white elephant that was).

      This is also interesting…..

      Just one more to add to the 50% referred to

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