In November, the Digital Marketplace celebrated its fourth birthday. Mark Hastings looks at how it’s giving SMEs access to significant government and local authority work.

Built by GDS and CCS in 2014, the Digital Marketplace has overhauled the public sector procurement landscape, harnessing the expertise of innovative companies and giving thousands of SMEs, like Rainmaker, the opportunity to supply their digital, data and technology services to the public sector.

Spending through the Digital Marketplace has now topped £4.2bn. According to Government numbers released earlier this year, 48% of the work has been handed to SMEs. And CCS has ambitious growth targets for the Digital Marketplace, aiming to hit a transaction throughput of £2.5bn per year by June 2019.

To put this in context, procurement activity through the five frameworks – G-Cloud, DOS, Cyber, Crown Hosting and QA/Testing – currently measures around £1bn a year. GDS expects the extra growth to come from greater procurement activity outside central government as well as expansion to overseas governments, through a Global Digital Marketplace.

As a case in point, through the Digital Marketplace, Rainmaker recently started working with Hackney Council to discover how they could best use technology to reduce the collaboration deficit in delivering digital local, central and regional public services.

Hackney had already devised its own Agile Lifecycle based on the Agile delivery principles set out in the GOV.UK service manual, but were keen that they had effective governance in place to see what projects they were delivering and to keep track of status and updates.
Already a signatory to the Local Digital Declaration, as well as managing its own portfolio of delivery, Hackney wanted to make sure that they could be open about the work they were doing, sharing learning and identifying opportunities to work collaboratively with other councils looking at similar challenges.

Hackney had identified LocalGov Digital’s ‘Pipeline’ product as an option to make this happen, and they chose Rainmaker to build on and iterate Pipeline into a product that could be used across government to share project information and seek collaboration opportunities.
It quickly became clear in our discovery that the existing version of Pipeline had been a promising start but its use had declined. Combining user research, design and our development team talents, we set about building priority features that would improve the experience and encourage uptake.

Pipeline is showing great promise for increased collaboration across the public sector. In fact, there are already over 140 projects listed on the service. We believe Hackney is playing a major role in shaping the delivery of better public services over the long term and at lower cost through shared spending by leading the way with this product.

By using the Digital Marketplace, Hackney was able to access a talent pool of experts at Rainmaker, who they could work with to get a shared understanding of the problem at hand, and build a solution to address user needs.

For Rainmaker, the knowledge and experience we have gained about Hackney’s digital vision allows us to make sure that what we’re doing, better enables their journey. And it will allow us to submit better bids for future work with Hackney through the Digital Marketplace.
The opportunities for SMEs to win meaningful work through the Digital Marketplace are real and growing. And we’ll soon have the opportunity to sell our services internationally through the Global Digital Marketplace. The barriers to entry are much lower than they used to be and the application process through the frameworks is increasingly straightforward. Typically, they have sensible evaluation mechanisms that create a level playing field for bidders, irrespective of size.

But suppliers still have to get out there and win the business. It’s not enough just to be on the frameworks themselves. If you’re not winning work, identify why and fix the issues.

Suppliers need to be confident in their areas of expertise and focus on what the potential customer is looking for. They need to do as much research as possible, talk to as many people as possible, and really focus on why they are different. If an SME gets its service definition right, consistently does a great job, then people will want to keep working with them.
Without question, the Digital Marketplace has been critical in giving Rainmaker access to significant government and local authority work and allowing us to grow rapidly.

Most importantly of all, working with the public sector more often is helping us to deliver on our values, giving us the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of people across the UK. And helping us to attract the extraordinary talent who live and breathe our values, and who will enable us to keep doing it in the future, both in the UK and overseas.

By Mark Hastings
Director – Public Sector at Rainmaker Solutions and an expert in digital strategy and delivery.

Follow on Twitter @markhastings4

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