In February around 25 SME G-Cloud providers, led by web services provider DXW, united in their dismay at the government’s latest agile procurement initiative, Digital Services 2 (DS2) and lobbied for change. They felt that the framework, in theory designed to enable the public sector to engage with agile service providers to build digital services efficiently and cost effectively, was deeply flawed.
The issue began in January 2015 when Crown Commercial Services, which owns both G-Cloud and the Digital Services Framework, removed agile development from G-Cloud 6, and briefly threatened to remove it from G-Cloud 5 too, thereby making DSF the only procurement route for agile digital service delivery.
Under DS2, roles are siloed by capability. There are seven capabilities and when invitations to tender are issued through the framework, each capability is responded to individually, and the buyer can choose to award each capability to any responding supplier that meets its requirements. What makes this difficult is that development, design, user research and delivery management all sit within different capabilities. The majority of SMEs supplying these services will have staff in all of those roles, and generally those people will work together as a team on most projects.
However, the prospect of winning one capability in a project but no others is not workable for most SMEs. For example, extracting a set of developers and no other staff is not commercially viable; without the support of their developer colleagues, the designers, user researchers and delivery managers in the company are unlikely to be able to take on other work. A company that won a tender, but only in one capability, might therefore not be able to take on the work. Given that risk, taking the time to respond with a good tender would become harder to justify.
This approach also ignored the fact that good companies are more than the sum of their parts; DXW pointed out that running a good digital agency isn’t just about the people you have, it’s also about culture, processes and shared experiences. The framework makes naive assumptions about what individuals can achieve when removed from their normal teams and processes, and ignores the commercial realities that suppliers face which, all other problems aside, would make it difficult to obtain services in this way.
In January, Harry Metcalfe, the managing director of DXW, called on other similarly-affected G-Cloud suppliers to unite in condemning DS2. It started with a lone blog on February 4th and within hours the #gcloudforever debate began. Some 25 technology companies joined in with numerous blogs and tweets calling for DS2 to be scrapped and for agile procurement via G-Cloud to stay. On February 10th at London’s thinkcloudforgovernment conference, Chris Chant, who set up the original G-Cloud framework in 2011, also criticised DS2. Metcalfe continued the pressure with a series of blogs and met Stephen Allott, the Crown Representative for SMEs, as well as Tony Singleton and his team at Government Digital Services and shadow MPs.
On February 18th Tony Singleton announced on the GDS blog that it was setting up a multi-disciplinary team, made up of the right people from GDS, CCS and Treasury Solicitors (TSol). He said, “We will listen to private-sector experts, many of whom have recently written about the shortcomings of the current Digital Services framework, to build a DS3 that works for all parties.”
Metcalfe said, “It’s a great start but not everyone has really invested in changing the current model. And some of the changes that are needed will be hard to make. But as G-Cloud 1 showed, change is possible. As suppliers and buyers we need to be vigilant, we need to be involved, and we need to be resolute. 2015 should be the year that rubbish IT procurement is shown the door.”