I was at an event recently when the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Matt Hancock, raised a really interesting prospect. He said that one of the things his team, presumably the Crown Commercial Service, are working on is a Crown Marketplace. In essence this is the extension of the GCloud concept into non-ICT categories. According to Civil Service World, these would be what CCS calls common goods and services, which can cover all generic requirements of departments.
As I am a huge fan of the GCloud concept, this is a really exciting development. Most importantly for me, the GCloud has lowered the barriers to entry for public contracts, allowing new market entrants and SMEs to create a sales channel to the public sector, which would have been very difficult before. I think the transparency of the GCloud has been a revelation and has the potential to drive the GCloud market to make itself more competitive as it iterates.
Another reason to be excited about an extension of the GCloud concept is that it goes some way towards solving a systemic problem in public procurement. This problem is that the prescriptive nature of the procurement process prevents the public sector buying innovative products and solutions because they weren’t aware of them when their need was defined. Even thorough market testing doesn’t address this as the generic form of the solution is already formed by that point. The GCloud approach allows buyers, and most importantly end users, to see what is available in the market before any form of process begins, preventing barriers to new solutions being put in place.
Its not all sweetness and light though. I saw some resistance from procurement teams over use of GCloud. This was partly due to genuine concerns over how diligently vendors are tested in the GCloud procurement, and partly due to reluctance to cede their role in the process as buying activity moves to end users. All of these elements will apply in the same, or potentially more, ways to a roll-out of the GCloud approach beyond ICT. Therefore from a vendor’s perspective we need to be realistic about how long it would take for this approach to be generally adopted.
A potential solution is for procurement teams to behave more like the very best consultants, who are always seeking to transfer their knowledge and to put themselves out of a job. In this way, procurement teams would focus on helping and training their end-user colleagues to buy fairly and to get best value, leaving the end-user teams to conduct their own procurement under the GCloud type approach. This would bring the end-users closer to the market which is where they need to be if the public sector is to access the innovation and new solutions it desperately needs.