Public Services > Central Government

Tech suppliers weigh G-Cloud 9 extension decision against Crown Marketplace backdrop

David Bicknell Published 01 December 2017

G-Cloud 9’s year-long extension has been dubbed as an opportunity to allow time for a “revolutionary transformation” to the Digital Marketplace platform


Technology suppliers to government yesterday met the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) hoping for a credible explanation of why the G-Cloud 9 framework has been extended for up to 12 months.

The news of the G-Cloud 9 extension provoked plenty of comment from vendors looking for a rationale for a decision which was made as part of a joint CCS and Government Digital Service (GDS) strategy, and which the two organisations said, had not been taken lightly.

The decision, they suggested, would “allow time for CCS and GDS to deliver a revolutionary transformation to the platform to meet more user needs - both central government and wider public sector.”

The explanation given for the framework being extended is that the “continuous and regular refreshes for each of the individual agreements” hasn’t given adequate time for the Digital Marketplace to be developed “beyond simply the refresh of these agreements, to meet identified user needs.”

CCS said that more time is now needed to transform the platform and make it scalable and more flexible, enabling more framework services and improved customer and supplier functionality based on what user needs have identified. It added that supplier and customer feedback had indicated that organisations didn’t simply want the agreements refreshed ‘as is’.

The explanation continued, “Rather than looking at each agreement individually, we are introducing a more holistic approach to common technology goods and services. We have taken your feedback very seriously, and we are developing a roadmap to improve the end-to-end buyer and supplier journey, as well as the broad needs of CCS from a policy, strategic category, sourcing and operations perspective.”

A CCS/GDS statement said that G-Cloud 9, Digital Outcomes and Specialists 2 (DOS 2) and Cyber Security Services 2 (Cyber 2) have all been extended for up to 12 months. DOS 2 will expire on or before 27 January 2019; Cyber 2 will expire on or before 28 February 2019; and G-Cloud 9 will expire on or before 21st May 2019.

Yesterday's meeting of suppliers with CCS at techUK was billed as a market briefing for Public Sector ICT suppliers to hear about the work of the strategic category teams within the CCS Tech Pillar; Digital Future, Technology Products & Services, Network Services & Software. The event offered an opportunity for a Q&A with Niall Quinn, CCS director for the Technology Strategic Category and his senior leadership team.

On the agenda for the suppliers at techUK was news of progress towards the creation of the Crown Marketplace, an online service available to the public sector connecting buyers and suppliers.

The Crown Marketplace is intended to offer a "one-stop shop" for the public sector to buy "common goods and services", offering a future where public sector and suppliers “interact, collaborate and innovate”, while at the same time offering smaller companies access to a public sector market opportunity whose value has been estimated at around £93bn.

What hasn’t been clear is what commercial route the government will take to deliver the Crown Marketplace. Two options were under consideration: through an Official Journal for the European Union (OJEU) procedure or through a so-called “Concession Procedure”. But straws in the wind on this have rather disappeared recently.

It has been suggested that as well as the reasons stated by CCS for the G-Cloud 9 extension, though it not publicly said as much, is that the extension is necessary to align the Digital Marketplace with the Crown Marketplace procurement, which is likely to place and be concluded in 2018 ahead of the expiry of G-Cloud 9 on May 21 2019. The Digital Marketplace, it is understood, is seen as an early adoptee of the Crown Marketplace though it is likely the Crown Marketplace and the Digital Marketplace would be separate for the time being.

It is understood that early talks with the Treasury may be underway about Crown Marketplace funding and next steps are currently being considered, including whether there is potential to do more and perhaps create a dynamic purchasing system (DPS) for the digital marketplace. That could perhaps take on board any lessons learned from the recent creation of the Health and Social Care Network Access Services DPS, which although it has only just gone live, its engagement work has been welcomed by suppliers.

Cloud suppliers have expressed disappointment over the G-Cloud 9 extension, but at the same time showed realism over it. One specialist said this wasn’t the first time a G-Cloud framework agreement has been extended, saying that when extensions do occur they have tended to be incremental to allow for glitches and slippages. It is understood, however, this is the first timethat a G-Cloud framework agreement has been extended to its maximum duration. Suppliers at techUK, it is understood, offered general buy in to the rationale of making things more dynamic and addressing what cannot be achieved now under G-Cloud.

Nicky Stewart, commercial director of cloud specialist UKCloud said, “Rapid iterations of the G-Cloud framework agreement has many benefits. It keeps the market competitive, and prices down; it gives buyers access to new technology and innovation;and it gives SMEs and new market entrants early access to a market which is otherwise notoriously difficult to penetrate. The core principles of G-Cloud are predicated on a level of dynamism that is rarely – if ever – seen in the public sector.  I think we must take the positives from this.

“We don’t really know why CCS have made this decision, other than their need to “deliver a revolutionary platform to meet user needs”, and they have gone on record as saying that they haven’t taken this decision lightly.  I believe this is sincere. G-Cloud has never been perfect, so as a community we need to see beyond the downsides and immediate inconveniences this extension will cause - G-Cloud is static and cannot accommodate the introduction of new services, material service enhancements or price adjustments to reflect third party price adjustments - and work together to make the framework even better and more dynamic than it is now.”

Chris Farthing, managing director of Advice Cloud said, “Whilst this is not the best of news for new entrants (including SMEs) looking to sell to government via G-Cloud for the first time, we see this as an opportunity to continue the good work we are doing with helping people who are on the framework but not selling get that first sale. My team has been very busy on user research, testing a number of innovative services to address the high percentage of companies yet to make significant sales.”

Farthing said the extension offered vendors the opportunity to fine tune their listing without completely re-applying while it also meant no new competitors will be landing on their doorsteps.

Not everyone remains quite so positive.  One cloud advocate said, “Hundreds of new SMEs join the framework at every iteration (and thus far there has always been a new one every nine months or less). Now there may be a 24 month delay and because of the rules new companies can't join and existing companies can't sell new services. It’s nuts. SaaS companies are bringing out innovative new products all the time and government can't buy them.”

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