Digital Marketplace: reaching far and wide in the public sector

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 17

Over the next few months, the Government Digital Service (GDS) wants to get a better understanding of how local government and the wider public sector are transforming their services in order to provide the right support at the right time. PSE’s Luana Salles reports.

More than 36,000 public sector organisations currently use the GDS Digital Marketplace to procure cloud-based services, physical data centre space and specialists to work in digital projects. These organisations – which include councils, devolved administrations, NHS bodies, universities, police and fire and rescue services – currently contribute around 23% of the spend that goes through the Digital Marketplace. 

While this may seem low, Gemma Phelan,  local and wider public sector engagement lead at GDS, argues context is important. “GDS is creating links between authoritative, trusted lists or ‘registers’, which includes public sector organisations such as local authorities and schools in England, and companies who can supply the public sector,” she wrote for the GDS blog. “In addition to the Open Contracting Data Standard, this will be a major step towards improving the data quality of who’s buying what from where. 

“When we have this, we can map it against who’s using the Digital Marketplace to see where we need to offer more support. We want the benefits of using the Digital Marketplace to be felt as widely as possible over the public sector.” 

Although much work has been put into expanding the diversity of the Marketplace’s 3,300-strong supplier base – more than 90% are SMEs and 72% are based outside the capital – the GDS said progress is still ongoing to improve the buying process for public organisations. 

“Currently, there’s no real uniformity in the way digital services are delivered at a local level. Councils and other government organisations routinely buy the same products and services independently, to achieve the same outcomes,” explained Phelan. 

“The recent Local Government Digital Service Standard suggests a ‘common approach for local authorities to deliver good quality, user-centred, value-for-money digital services’. The Digital Marketplace is an open and transparent way to buy products and capability collectively and in line with this standard. We want to find out more about how buyers want to collaborate and buy better together or reuse and learn from one another.” 

While methods are being implemented, such as applying user-centred principles to the design of procurement and contracts, the ultimate aim is to “grow and improve” the Digital Marketplace so that it becomes the preferred buying route for all public sector organisations. 

In order to do this, GDS wants to understand the “unique challenges” local government faces when using the Marketplace so that these barriers can be overcome. Lessons will be fed back into the design and development of the service wherever possible. 

In the next few months, the organisation will seek to find out what technology and digital services local authorities and the rest of the sector are buying or need; speak to organisations directly to identify and address barriers to using the service; and then create a plan catered to local and national public bodies across the UK. 

Asked how it will reach out to these organisations – whether it will be one-to-one, in workshops or even through online surveys – Phelan said the GDS is still “currently looking into the best ways” to work with the sector. 

But the ambition is already clear: by engaging directly with public procurement bosses, the government intends to strengthen collaborative working to keep spurring jobs and boosting local economies. It cited, for example, Derby City Council’s decision last year to use the Marketplace in order to move IT services to the cloud, which has significantly reduced its ICT spend.

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