Given the unstoppable growth of the UK tech sector, it’s not surprising that there is tighter focus on the need to ensure the government properly assesses, procures and manages digital, data and technology products and services. The Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Playbook sets out how that should happen.
What are the objectives of the playbook? In many respects there is nothing new; it merely reinforces current themes – cost cutting, security of data and facilitating involvement of SMEs and VCSEs in the supply chain.
It does, however, continue to set the tone for anticipated reforms in the public procurement arena. These are expected to cater for more collaborative and innovative solutions which will champion outcome over process.
Here, I have outlined the 11 key policies and what this means for you. These should be at your fingertips whether you are a contracting authority (very broadly, a publicly funded body) or a supplier looking to provide products or services with any degree of reliance on DDaT to a contracting authority.
Although much of the playbook focuses on central government, we can expect to see the themes adopted more widely.
Publication of commercial pipelines
Contracting authorities should publish details of commercial pipelines at least 18 months in advance.
Market health and capability assessments
Opportunities and limitations of the market should be undertaken at an early stage, actively engaging with market players as early as possible.
Delivery model assessments
The best delivery model and structure, e.g. in-house, outsourcing or hybrid, should be identified using a proportionate, evidence-based process which takes into account the whole life of the contract opportunity.
Assessments of economic and financial standing of suppliers
Any potential suppliers should be subject to a “transparent, objective and non-discriminatory assessment”. Of chief importance should be consideration of the economic and financial standings of potential bidders, which should continue to be monitored once a supplier has been engaged.
Suppliers who are involved in critical DDaT contracts must have robust resolution/disaster recovery plans in place.
Cyber security assessments
Minimum cyber security standards must be set and maintained – both for the contracting authority and for any potential supplier. The Cyber Essentials Scheme will be mandatory for all new central government contracts involving the handling of personal information and the provision of certain products and services.
Testing and learning
In cases where new ways of delivering services are being piloted, an evaluation process should be undertaken to ascertain potential risks and opportunities.
Considerations around collaboration, value for money, sustainability and risk management must remain front and centre in terms of delivery of both commercial outcomes and digital and cyber security.
Open and interoperable data and code
The ability to share information and data within the supply chain and across contracting authorities/government structures in a secure and effective way is critical. That might mean use of open-source software and “platform-agnostic” solutions, but always in compliance with any appliable requirements around data standards.
Legacy IT and up-to-date products
Longevity is key to any product or solution, with the focus on an ability to maintain updates and solutions which remain fit for purpose until the contract (and any extension) comes to an end.
Environmental, economic and social sustainability are central considerations.
What’s the impact of this?
In reality, these policies are going to reinforce current ideals in the procurement of DDaT products and services rather than change the face of the procurement process in any fundamental way.
The increasing emphasis on accountability for both contracting authorities and suppliers is, however, likely an impact both on bidding processes and on product/service supply. There are many positives here – such as the potential to reduce wastage associated with investment in digital products with a short shelf-life, and ongoing focus to ensure businesses delivering those products remain financially viable.
Whether it truly enhances SME involvement in the supply chain however remains to be seen. There are likely to be additional hurdles in place along the way, all of which will add to a process which is already often perceived as daunting and burdensome, and further commitment to spend before there is any genuine potential for return on investment.
It will therefore be critical for contracting authorities to be measured and realistic in the steps they take to adopt the ethos of the playbook into their tendering processes.