Since the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework went live, we’ve been frustrated by the quality of writing in published opportunities. In September last year, we decided to try and gather some data to establish whether this is really a problem, or whether it’s just our opinion.
The results are now in and make for sobering reading. Respondents voted on all opportunities published in the three weeks up to the end of October 2017. These votes show that most opportunities are not clearly explained: that the problem to be solved, the needs being met, the summary of work and the reason for doing the work were unclear in most cases. Overall, 65% of opportunities were rated as “generally bad”. The full results are published on the DOS Armchair Audit site.
We believe that this problem has real impact. As a supplier, we often find opportunities frustrating: when a problem is poorly described, it’s hard to propose a good solution. And the procurement process is sufficiently constrained that there’s no easy way to solve the problem after the unclear opportunity is published. Queries are limited to the “questions” mechanism which gives no hope of having a conversation with the buyer. And of course, you can’t just pick up the phone.
As a result, I am sure that our bids don’t always tell buyers what they want to know about us, and we’re sure that other suppliers find themselves in the same position.
The frustration we feel when reading an unclear opportunity pales into insignificance when compared to the frustration of losing work over misunderstandings in documents that are expensive for us to prepare. We only work with public sector bodies and so have had to endure it and do our best to improve. Would we do this if we worked for all comers? Probably not, and I wouldn’t blame our colleagues in other suppliers for thinking the public sector isn’t worth the trouble.
This is a huge missed opportunity. The public sector’s supplier base is smaller and less varied than it could be. And in individual procurements, these misunderstandings must surely mean that contracts are not always awarded to the best supplier for the job. Ultimately, this leads to poorer outcomes for users.
It’s often said that one should start as one means to go on, and GDS/CCS have made excellent progress towards realising that goal. But the widespread lack of digital/commercial capability in buyers is a hard blocker. The Digital Marketplace is a great product, but just having a great product will not itself solve the problem. What’s needed now is guidance, training, and practical support for buyers.
I hope that the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework will face this head-on in its next iteration. We’d like to see:
- Quality assurance of opportunities prior to publication, to ensure they meet a defined content standard and contain work that’s appropriate for the framework
- Practical help and support for buyers from a team containing a mixture of seasoned digital and commercial operators from GDS and CCS
- Published quality measures for opportunities, bids and outcomes so that we can see how changes in the digital marketplace affect the quality of services received by buyers in the long-term