Neil Mellor 11 September 2014

The future of Network Services

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.

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 and services. But, they were far from perfect.

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’s 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.

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 new framework delivers what local government organisations need?

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 flexibly than current frameworks allow. It needs to be easier to sell individual or combinations of services in the way the local government users want them and on terms that are attractive to both buyer and seller.

So what can suppliers and local government users expect from the new frameworks?

There are some encouraging early signs. It appears that the way suppliers qualify for lots on the frameworks will change. For the original 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 and restricted available suppliers for local government.

For Network Services there will now 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 scope of the lot should they wish. This makes the lot far more accessible for SMEs, more flexible for all suppliers and should enable more choice for local government organisations.

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 services within the scope of a lot whilst retaining the core capability. This should help them respond more flexibly to local government demands.

A second area to note concerns direct award. Today, if a council for example, wants to buy a WAN, they 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 both supplier and local government point of view, this takes out a whole lot of cost and complexity from procurement.

For local government users, these developments are encouraging. Local government often has local requirements to support local businesses. Over the last three years, there have been examples of local government wanting to engage suitable suppliers that were not on either the Connectivity or Services framework. They have wanted more flexibility in terms of the solutions they wanted to buy and to package things slightly differently. There will now be a much larger pool of suppliers to choose from that will, no doubt, suit local requirements more closely.

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 of for PSN as a trusted platform for innovation, reform and change comes step closer.

Neil Mellor is director of PSNGB

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