New PSN framework expected to appear this week
Network Services replaces the original PSN Connectivity and Services frameworks
One of the most highly awaited recent developments in the public services network (PSN) world is expected this week.
The Network Services framework, which is due to come out this week, replaces the original PSN procurement frameworks for Connectivity and Services - both services come to the end of their extension period early next year.
The launch is said to be imminent, with the PSN framework expected to be released "very shortly, likely this week", according to the Cabinet Office. Although the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is reluctant to commit to a date, it could be this Wednesday, 8 October.
Network Services is the latest version of what was formerly Public Sector Telecommunication Services (PSTS) and Public Services Network 2 (PSN2). The new name reflects the need to end the confusion between PSN as a set of standards for a wide area network (WAN) and PSN as a set of procurement frameworks for a variety of PSN and other services.
The framework has already been the subject of several market engagement meetings and CCS's approach to the market engagement exercise has already been welcomed by vendors who attended the discussions. PSN supplier group PSNGB has already applauded CCS's inclusive approach to discussions, which went well beyond a simple presentation and incorporated 'talk and chalk' sessions with vendors. It is understood that CCS has specifically set up Network Services to give SMEs a greater chance to participate in the framework than the two existing PSN frameworks.
PSN Connectivity for PSN compliant networks began on 25 April 2012 with 12 suppliers. This was due to expire after two years but has been extended until 25 April 2015. PSN Services for voice, mobile and unified services which began on 27 June 2012 with 29 suppliers, also for two years, has now been extended until 27 June 2015. The frameworks were let through a competitive tendering process run by OJEU.
According to public sector research group Kable's latest Public Services Network forecast to 2018/19, the connectivity framework had an estimated value of £500m to £3bn and the Services framework had an estimated value of £500m to £2bn. By April 2014, the connectivity framework had seen business worth £89m, while the services framework had seen business worth £112m - around 20% of the lower estimated values.
By letting the framework now, CCS expects process to be completed before any slowdown in government business early next year ahead of the General Election.
PSNGB, which represents the interests of PSN suppliers, has said it expects the way suppliers qualify for lots on the frameworks will change. For the PSN framework, suppliers needed the full breadth of capability defined in any lot in order to qualify for it and this made it difficult, particularly for SMEs and specialist providers. These suppliers might have deep capability in one area, but lack services or experience in another. Under past requirements, this would have excluded them from the lot.
For Network Services, there is expected to be a minimum set of predetermined core capabilities in each lot that suppliers will need to meet and maintain to qualify. Once accepted they will be given the chance to make broader offers within the overall scope of the lot should they wish.
This makes the lot far more accessible for SMEs and more flexible for all suppliers. It also means that suppliers are not forced to define all of their offerings in advance of what will be a two year period when the market is likely to change significantly. Now suppliers will have the opportunity to vary their services within the scope of a lot whilst retaining the core capability.
A second area to note concerns direct awards. Today, if a council for example, wants to buy a WAN, it must issue a tender to all twelve suppliers on the connectivity framework, which can then choose to bid under a further competition. But for simple services such as commodity circuits or basic telephony, it is often more appropriate to be able to issue a direct award.
Under the Network Services framework, direct award will be the preferred option where suitable offers are available, with short form or general further competition only required for more tailored and complex requirements. From a supplier point of view, this takes out a whole lot of cost and complexity from procurement with similar benefit for the commissioning organisation.