Public Services > Blue Light

New Network Services framework shows early progress

Published 25 August 2014

In the latest of a series of guest articles about the public services network (PSN), PSNGB director Neil Mellor believes the early signs are that the forthcoming Network Services framework will offer both customers and suppliers more flexibility


The original PSN procurement frameworks for Connectivity and Services come to the end of their extension period early next year and discussions with the supplier community on the replacement Network Services framework are well underway.

Change is upon us, and whilst for some that notion might fill you with dread, at PSNGB we are embracing it.

Given the early stage we are at in the new procurement process, it is timely to remind everyone that the existing PSN frameworks were a great start - they provided a very competitive market place for connectivity andservices. But, they were far from perfect.

According to Kable, the public sector research group, bidding for a place was an onerous process for suppliers and business to date (that which has gone through the frameworks) has not lived up to the promises, as a significant volume business was placed through other means such as OJEU and other local frameworks or existing contracts.

However, as with most things in business - and in particular technology - the first release of something is never going to be as good as it can be. It is iterative improvement that's important though. Comparison can be drawn with G-Cloud which has gone through five iterations and continues to mature in response to user and supplier feedback.

PSN is, arguably, one of the largest change programmes to have recently been undertaken anywhere in the world, so there are going to be bumps on the way. What is important is not dwelling on these but understanding how we can attune both the PSN standards and procurement frameworks to better meet user needs and to encourage a healthy marketplace for both buyers and suppliers.

Technology waits for no one and in the two years since the frameworks were awarded both capabilities and user needs have moved on fast. So, what do we need to help ensure that any newframework delivers what the supplier and user communities need?

In our view, the Kable report sums it up nicely: Supplier diversity across the spectrum needs to be encouraged by making it easier to do business with the public sector and not expecting the supplier to take all the risk if the potential rewards are much less than they used to be.

We need to enable more eligible suppliers to enter the market and to make it easier for all providers to add and package services more flexiblythan current frameworks allow. It needs to be easier to sell individual or combinations of services in the way the customer wants them and on terms that are attractive to both buyer and seller.

The good news is CCS seems to belistening. In the first two working sessions - out of four - established to develop the final Network Services ITT- CCS should be applauded for the way they have engaged the market and deserve credit for the way the first sessions were facilitated.

So what can suppliers expect from the new frameworks?

For SMEs there are some encouraging earlysigns. It appears that the way suppliers qualify for lots on the frameworks will change. For the PSN framework, suppliers needed the full breadth of capability defined in any lot in order to qualify for it and this made it difficult, particularly for SMEs and specialist providers. These suppliers might have deep capability in one area, but lack services or experience in another. Under past requirements, this would have excluded them from the lot.

For Network Services there will be a minimum set of predetermined core capabilities in each lot that suppliers will need to meet and maintain to qualify. Once accepted they will be given the chance to make broader offers within the overall scopeof the lot should they wish.

This makes the lot far more accessible for SMEs and more flexible for all suppliers.It also means that suppliers are not forced to define all of their offerings in advance of what will be a two year period when the market is likely to change significantly. Now suppliers will have the opportunity to vary their serviceswithin the scope of a lot whilst retaining the core capability.

A second area to note concerns direct award. Today, if a council for example, wants to buy a WAN, it must issue a tender to all twelve suppliers on the connectivity framework, who can then choose to bid under a further competition. But for simple services such as commodity circuits or basic telephony, it is often more appropriate to be able to issue a direct award.

Under the Network Services framework, direct award will be the preferred option where suitable offers are available, with short form or general further competition only required for more tailored and complex requirements. From a supplier point of view, this takes out a whole lot of cost and complexity from procurement with similar benefit for the commissioning organisation.

The PSN marketplace continues to change and evolve. It's more mature and the government has been listening to suppliers and users alike. A collaborative start to the new framework can be of benefit to all PSN stakeholders. The simpler we can collectively make both the procurement of networks and services and the operation of the Public Services Network, then our goal for PSN as a trusted platform for innovation, reform and change comes step closer.

Neil Mellor is a director of PSNGB ( @neil_2_mellor @psngb

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