The Crown Commercial Service has indicated the recently closed Digital Marketplace was no longer fit for purpose but has pledged to make improvements to the replacement platform, after acknowledging that many suppliers have seen the change as a “retrograde step”.
First launched in 2012 – and rebranded to its current name two years thereafter – the Digital Marketplace was the means through which public sector customers could buy services and post opportunities via the G-Cloud and Digital Outcomes and Specialists frameworks.
Tenders issued via the platform – which were all published openly online – asked buyers to provide background information on their desired outcome, before describing a “problem to be solved” and the ultimate intended users and their needs, as well as all relevant budget and delivery information.
As of 20 April, the Digital Marketplace is no longer accepting any new tenders and buyers have until 14 June to sign any contracts awarded through the fifth iteration of the Digital Outcomes and Specialists (DOS) framework.
All tenders for DOS6 and G-Cloud 13, which came into effect in November, must be issued via the newly created Contract Award Service, which can be accessed via the Public Procurement Gateway. Opportunities can currently only be viewed by registered users of the PPG – which includes suppliers and public-sector buyers – meaning that opportunities are no longer accessible to the general public.
This lack of transparency is one of a number of criticisms levelled at CCS by suppliers, former civil servants, and other onlookers – many of whom have posted online to convey their anger, frustration, and disappointment.
CSW's sister title PublicTechnology asked government’s procurement agency to respond to such criticism, and explain the decision to close the Digital Marketplace.
In a lengthy response, CCS indicated that the outgoing system could no longer cope with the requirements being placed on it.
“CCS is working to make our agreements easier to use and enabling a better experience for our customers,” it said. “The Digital Marketplace (DMp) was not able to accommodate the growing demands of CCS customers and its business. The new digital Contract Award Service (CAS) is both flexible and scalable providing a full e2e (end-to-end) digital experience. The current service, DMp, was supported until the launch of the new service and the DOS6 commercial agreement.”
The buying unit also pledged that it would rectify the current lack of transparency of public-sector spending.
“We remain committed to maintaining transparency for our products. We have been developing an enhanced digital platform, called Contract Award Service (CAS), to support future iterations of Digital Outcomes and Specialists, as well as digitally enabling all CCS agreements across our broad portfolio. This digital enablement also includes the Public Procurement Gateway (PPG) – a single registration for suppliers, dramatically reducing the need to repeatedly supply the same information in order to participate in public sector procurements and agreements,” it said.
“Transparency functionality for DOS is available historically, and is deemed critical for both G-Cloud and DOS. The decision to temporarily suspend this functionality was taken so that the launch of G-Cloud 13 was not delayed. We are currently working to reinstate the transparency function and further develop the end-to-end process for buyers and suppliers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. The CAS platform will continue to evolve through an iterative process informed by supplier and buyer feedback.”
'Accessible to all suppliers'
With a focus on outcomes, rather than products, and a model that encouraged buyers to restate their needs at each for each new project phase – discovery, alpha and beta – the bidding processes of DOS and the Digital Marketplace were designed to support agile delivery methods.
CCS also indicated that it wished to maintain support for such methods.
“DOS will continue to enable the commercial approach to agile delivery for the public sector,” it said. “Our customers ultimately decide the procurement strategy for their particular service or operational need. CCS values the DOS commercial route as it provides access to a wide range of suppliers, on a transparent and fair basis. It drive competitive behaviours and with future iterations of the digital platform will provide more insight and transparency than ever before.”
The procurement body acknowledged that many suppliers regarded the launch of Contract Award Service as a “a retrograde step”. But it claimed that the new system represents a big improvement for buyers – particularly in its ability to connect to the Jaggaer procurement software that is used extensively in public procurement. Suppliers will also, in the long run, benefit from such changes, according to CCS.
"Contract Award Service provides a more holistic end-to-end procurement experience for buyers than the Digital Marketplace ever provided."
Crown Commercial Service
“Contract Award Service provides a more holistic end-to-end procurement experience for buyers than the Digital Marketplace ever provided,” it said. “This is significant for our buyers, and ultimately suppliers, as it will mean faster procurement timelines and single system access for the entire procurement process. We have to balance suppliers and buyers needs. In order to achieve this we built CAS to interface to the e-sourcing platform, Jaggaer. This is a widely used platform within the public sector.”
CCS added: “As a result of moving to a commercially available off the shelf product this has meant the supplier interface is no longer simplified as it was in the Digital Marketplace. We recognise that for some suppliers, the user experience has changed compared to that on the Digital Marketplace. We will continue to iteratively improve CAS through user research and will be speaking with industry representatives in the near future about the user experience and our future iterations of the CAS platform.
“We remain committed to making procurement accessible to all suppliers, irrespective of size of organisation.”
Since G-Cloud and its supporting procurement platform – which was then known as CloudStore – was first launched in 2012, a total of £19.5bn has been spent via the framework and its sister vehicle, Digital Outcomes and Specialists, which was created in 2016.
This included almost £3bn of G-Cloud spending and £1.25bn in DOS contracts during 2022-23 alone.
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared