An update on an impromptu campaign: two weeks on

Just before Christmas, I read the Digital Services Framework tender documents, and I reeled in horror.

I was pretty sceptical about the first iteration, and I explained those concerns, privately, to quite a few people. But in those conversations, everyone agreed the framework hadn’t come out very well. So I had hope that it would be quite a bit different in its second iteration. But as we’ve now seen, that wasn’t to be.

After a few weeks of conversations and thinking I ended up blogging about it, which caused a much bigger stir than I was expecting. Interesting debate was had on Twitter. Suppliers of all shapes and sizes wrote posts of their own and tweeted about their own experiences.

At Think Cloud last week, Chris Chant and Jan Joubert did a keynote speech entitled Unacceptable #2: a reprise of an earlier speech by Chris, and laying out an unfortunate litany of unfixed problems.

The press picked up on the story and started writing about it – first just reporting the backlash from suppliers, but ultimately also providing some fantastic commentary. Simon Wardley also wrote a more wide-ranging piece about what sort of contracting approach works in different stages of product evolution.

Early on in the process GDS confirmed, in response to a press enquiry, that they would consider substantive change in Digital Services 3 and would run a discovery phase to gather ideas and understand user needs better. This was welcomed by everyone.

Then, at the beginning of this week, after GDS had confirmed that they were going to fix all of this stuff, something odd happened. CCS started sending people letters, saying that their agile development services would be removed from G-Cloud. Cue much panic all around. This episode led me to seriously question what on earth is going on with GDS and CCS, and whether CCS are actually in a position to be able to adopt a new approach.

But ultimately, the crisis was swiftly averted by GDS, who then brought some much-needed clarity by explaining a few things in a blog post of their own:

Agile development will remain available through the G-Cloud framework for the time being

After jointly reviewing this decision and listening to the resounding feedback, Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and Government Digital Service (GDS) have decided not remove agile development services available under G-Cloud 5 from the Digital Marketplace

Digital Services 3’s discovery phase starts now, GDS are empowered to make it substantially different and will launch it ASAP

It’ll be for the discovery phase to explore the framework vehicle and come up with the answers.

We’re setting up a multidisciplinary team, made up of the right people from GDS, CCS and Treasury Solicitors (TSol) to work on this. We’ll listen to private sector experts, many of whom have recently written about the shortcomings of the current Digital Services framework. We’ll consult widely with Digital and Technology leaders across government.

Digital Services 2’s commercial approach will be liberally interpreted, with a team in GDS advising buyers

There will also be a joint GDS and CCS team ready to assist commercial teams where needed, so they can be assured the way DS2 is being used is legally compliant.

Buyers will still be able to contract with single suppliers for whole phases of projects, based on the capability of their team. I can also confirm that having co-located teams has always been at the buyer’s discretion, and will not always be a requirement. We’ll be making sure that buyers are aware that they can take this approach. And we’ll do our best to ensure that tenders issued through the framework are very clear about the approach the buyer is taking.

All of these developments are fantastic news, and for my part, are very reassuring: acknowledging the problems and setting out what’s going to be done is a clear demonstration that GDS does live by its values. But we can’t be complacent. Nothing is ever finished, and until a half-decent framework for procuring agile services is actually live, we haven’t even really started.

It won’t be easy. Not everyone wants Digital Services 3 to adopt the mantle of G-Cloud. Not everyone is 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 us, 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.

G-Cloud is proof that things can be better. It’s a runaway success, and a shining example of how good things could be. Many, many people agree that it’s a good model to build on.

Let’s get out there and do it.