Dr Pedro Telles of Swansea University has been conducting a series of interviews, the Public Procurement Podcasts (PPP), supported by the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Awards, where he interviews leading academics, researchers and graduates who have an interesting viewpoint on aspects of public sector procurement. Most recently he spoke with a practitioner, Warren Smith, Director, Digital Marketplace, part of the Government Technology in the UK Government Digital Service. He is currently transforming the way the public sector commissions products and services “by thinking small about big problems, and thinking big about small successes.”
Warren discusses how he has been focusing on introducing the concept of ‘user-centred design’ into procurement and contracting, as well as focusing more on outcomes rather than detailed input requirements, as well as introducing open approaches. He explains that this approach is much more open about thinking, sharing information and visions in advance of procuring, that is, trying to engage with the market earlier. “Open standards and open data have a very important role,” he says. “For me, making things open is a really fundamental tool for disruption, I think, which we can employ in many different areas.”
Pedro asks Warren about the digital marketplace and what it is trying to achieve. As a brief outline Warren describes it as “… basically we are all about helping the public sector buy what it needs to deliver great digital services.” And goes into a more detailed description of the objectives, which you can read fully in the text. However, he does highlight that “everything we are trying to do is about transforming procurement so that it can help that aim of better public services that are digital by default. We are looking at the entire, end-to-end process of procurement and contracting, and focus on the areas where we think we can make the biggest difference … Within the digital and technology space in government we are looking to disaggregate large requirement sets into capabilities that meet user needs, and thinking more about how we might diversify and open up supply chains into government.”
He goes on to talk about how they are expecting to see the work packages and the contracts change into shorter-term, lower-value and quicker delivery, and how the OJEU threshold might be an “untapped opportunity.” “We’re developing the Digital Marketplace so that we can award a framework agreement, then provide an end-to-end buying process where buyers and suppliers use the framework, get through the evaluation process, award a contract, get on and do the delivery …” he says.
They then discuss examples of changes and simplifications that have been done to the procedures and contracts for the digital services framework. These generally focus on facilitating the process for suppliers to Government and redesigning frameworks. Where the conversation gets interesting is when Pedro remarks that:
“… once a certain procedure or practice is developed … There’s no incentive and there’s no work to revisit what is being done today, to say, Okay, if you were redesigning it from scratch, how would we do it? And how would you improve it because you now have different technologies, you have different techniques, you can do things differently? I think it’s very important to get out of that frameset, and instead look at what is being done today, and say, Okay, do we really need to do this? We really need to improve this? On that note, bearing in mind that you’ve done a lot of work in simplifying contracts and procedures, have you seen any correlation, or at least relation, between simplifying the contracts and procedures and increasing the participation of SMEs in public procurement?”
Warren has a very positive view of this: “Absolutely. There is a strong positive correlation. I think, if I state that correctly, that we’ve seen just by simplifying the application process and being more open and describing our intent and what we need, and describing the contractual situation in plain language, I think that we can demonstrate a significant difference between digital services framework, which is the one that was receiving a lot of the criticism, which had something like 150, 160 suppliers on it, across the UK, to Digital Outcomes and Specialists which now has over 1,200 suppliers across the UK, and over 90% of them are SMEs.”
He goes on in detail to describe what they need to do next after these early steps. “I think we’ll be able to see very soon what’s the actual business that’s being won by suppliers as a result of the changes that we’ve brought about through digital outcomes and specialists,” he says. And you can find out what’s next on the agenda in the full transcript. They also discuss work with other countries and have an interesting discussion where Warren reveals how the rollout of the achievements that the GDS has made can be incorporated into other levels of government.
It’s an interesting dialogue and the full report can be found here on the Public Procurement Podcasts website.