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U.K. Courts SMBs For IT Services Contracts

Digital Services Framework dangles £40 million in front of potential bidders, with a special appeal to small and midsize businesses capable of fulfilling the government's "digital by default" mission.

The British government has opened a £40 million ($60 million) contract bidding opportunity in the field of digital services, and it's specifically inviting small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to throw their hats in the ring.

The Cabinet Office, the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Government Procurement Service have published a U.K. Digital Services Framework to provide "digital project build services" for government departments and other organizations across the British public sector.

The procurement framework, published in the Official Journal of the European Union, is taking applications until August 7. It is open to what the government specifically dubs "suppliers of all sizes," all invited to support digital by default -- the provision of services electronically, whenever possible, as a way to cut costs and modernize the British state.

[ Want to know how the U.S. is trying to make government more efficient? See Obama Reboots Technology Mission To Improve Government. ]

Perhaps reflecting recent concerns about the ongoing dominance of the higher end of British state information and communications technology (ICT) market by a so-called oligopoly of big suppliers, the notice states that the framework is "part of an ambition to move away from legacy IT and big contracts with a few large systems integrators."

It claims this new framework will "make it easier for smaller companies to bid for business," and offer innovative digital solutions for "public services shaped by user need."

"The Digital Services Framework is an example of government procurement that is faster, simpler and easier to do business with," said Francis Maude, the Minister behind much of the digital by default program.

"We must ensure that government has access to the most innovative and cost-effective digital solutions," he added, claiming such services will be provided by smaller firms that, in the past, have been "locked out of public sector business" in the country by complex and expensive requirements to even bid for contracts.

Maude and his team see the framework as both contrasting with and complementing the government's ongoing G-Cloud purchasing frameworks.

That's because, apparently, it will all be about custom digital solution development rather than "commoditized" IT services.

In any case, U.K. public sector bodies -- including central government departments, non-departmental public bodies, NHS Trusts and local authorities -- will be able to source digital solutions from the framework agreement and consume them as managed services.

The bidding announcement mentions as potential opportunities software engineering, product development and service design, agile delivery management, front-end design and interaction design, content design and development, system administration, and Web operations.

Suppliers are also being told they must develop digital services to open standards -- and that when there is no significant cost difference between open and non-open source products that fulfill the minimum and essential capabilities, "open source will be selected on the basis of its inherent flexibility."

The Agile development approach currently much in vogue at the top of Whitehall is also mentioned; the bidding document asks for suppliers who meet the Digital by Default Service Standards. These standards "put the user at the center," provide working software that is built and tested in "two- to three-week sprints," "iterate against user feedback," deliver improvements to a service promptly, and keep a team in one location.

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