The scope of frameworks

Frameworks for government are important. They create a forum in which companies can set out their pitch for what they can do for government. They allow the government to undertake a certain amount of vetting of those companies. And they reduce the bureaucracy associated with government’s procurement.

Necessarily, their scope is limited. The scope of the framework is clearly defined. Companies specify their competencies against that scope, and this allows the public sector to buy services within that scope via the framework. It all works rather nicely.

However, risk is introduced when that scope is stretched.

Let’s say a framework is geared around a specific subject matter, cloud computing, for example. And let’s say that in being accepted onto the framework, a company demonstrates its competence in this area.

Now let’s say that a government organisation seeks expertise in a different subject matter, the provision of school meals for example. And let’s say it looks on the framework, and decides to go with the aforementioned company to provide its school meals, predominantly because it seems to offer good value for money.

There are two issues here. First, if the company is not very good at providing school meals, where do we go? The framework offered a level of comfort and protection. The companies that are on it have shown a level of competence in cloud computing. But they have shown no such ability in cookery.

Second, what if there’s another company that’s top dog in the school meals world. They make school meals that kids rave about, with locally-sourced ingredients at a price that has to be seen to be believed.

They see the business being awarded within the cloud computing framework. And, rightly, they say “hang on a minute”. This second company had read the terms of the cloud computing framework and dismissed it outright. “We don’t do cloud computing. We’re good at cooking food for kids. How could we possibly benefit from being listed on there?”

The example above is an extreme one for illustrative purposes. (Funnily enough, this specific example was presented to me earlier today by a Cabinet Office employee. They suggested that if the above deal represented good value for money, what was the issue?)

What are your thoughts? Should frameworks be stretched beyond their initial intent and their advertised scope to enable potential savings to the taxpayer? Or should their scope be carefully policed to ensure that companies are not awarded business unfairly at the expense of others; and that government doesn’t do business with companies ill-equipped to meet their requirements?

Comments

One Response to “The scope of frameworks”

  1. Simon Telfer on February 23rd, 2015 13:02

    Lots of questions raised here, and in passing i though i might as well throw something in for a few of them to show it does get read. Based on a sliver of your comments, and my experiences:

    Frameworks are primarily a marketplace, I believe if a new category slips in because the framework offers an easy route to market then all participants should accept the benefit of their early start, and work to open to other vendors…. better value and better competition. Will this ever happen, well, i seriously doubt OJEU will ever allow something like this.

    Lot 4 SCS. I dont think this is as suspicious as people think. It is used for so many things.
    The definition of pure and competitive SaaS is your software as a service, maintenance and patching. It still requires configuration, fixing and adaptation for business operations. Public sector IT is still lite on in-house IT and whilst this is being re-built the availability of easy call-off time and materials IT department type business support through lot 4 is probably better than the less transparent ‘built in to the core service cost’ whilst we learn about cloud.

    Its also important to remember that however we try to convince public sector to go for multi-tenant off she shelf service, the reality is that most of the things they procure still have a veneer of “i’m special”, with the lot 4 costs reflecting the veneer costs. But, at least they are visible and we can work together to reduce and improve them and move them to something common.

    In balance, there do seem to be some projects which challenge the definitions but the vast majority reflect where we are at the moment. Building the new digital and cloud stuff, opening up the market, building SME confidence and access.

    We almost consider Lot4 as an incubator, as the vast majority of things we engage with in lot 4 become a lot 3/2 service in the next GCloud round. Its a pragmatic way of not having to stand up a raft of £100k SaaS investments that someone might not buy.

    I think its a good thing, as is the debate. As long as it all keeps going in the right direction and no side gets to dominate the debate.

    Lots I could cover here, and there is no structure to these comments so apologies for lack of completeness.

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