The Up-coming Agile Digital Framework

Five things I love the sound of, one thing I don’t…

Here are my initial reactions to the just-announced Agile digital framework. I went to the first info session about this last Friday (11.01.13), hosted by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Government Procurement Service (GPS). All credit to them for opening this up to discussion.

In fact, I was really enthused by almost all of what I heard…

First of all, five things I love the sound of (in no order)

  • It’s a new Agile framework for digital suppliers to government. Real Agile, with a capital “A”.
  • The framework itself will, we’re assured, be lightweight to get onto and use, it will be SME-friendly, and with “modular” T&Cs so these can be tailored to each project.
  • It’s got the GDS behind it who have the credibility in Agile – and the clout in government – to make this happen.
  • There was an emphasis on quality as well as price – including an awareness that delivering a superb customer experience has economic (and social) benefits beyond the simple cost of project procurement.
  • Physical co-location is not pre-requisite, in fact a virtualised (distributed) agile model is being actively supported (selfishly, that’s really good news for us at BV, since that’s how we do Agile).

In fact, there’s loads that sounds great about this framework (and it’s not often you hear those words).

That one thing that concerns me…

The current plan is to have a single private-sector organisation called the “neutral vendor” (NV) who will handle the Agile framework and be an interface between customers (e.g. government departments) and us suppliers.

The principle of an expert organisation handling this is a good one but my concern is, at least under current planning, that there will only be one neutral vendor.

In my experience, the public sector struggles to be effective when working in competition, while the private sector struggles to be efficient without it. So a single private-sector neutral vendor could be the worst of both worlds.

In fact, I was among several people who raised a concern about this at the meeting.

I can see there is a possible benefit in economies of scale with one supplier, and in making things dead simple for buyers. But I think there is a danger too, in creating a monopoly within the supply chain.

In fact, I wonder if GDS / GPS would consider (say) two neutral vendors, operating in competition. This could have a lot of benefits all round, for instance:

  • Competition will keep both neutral vendors focused on delivering what clients want.
  • It provides choice for government customers, and also for us suppliers – both of whom can look to work through either or both NVs. It may well be that these neutral vendors use different procurement and operating models, giving buyers a choice with this too.
  • It avoids the “all eggs in one basket” dilemma.
  • Competition means that the governance of the neutral vendors (presumably coming from GDS?) can be more lightweight / cost-effective
  • There will be an incentive to deliver beyond just the agreed KPIs. While essential,targets and KPIs inevitably skew outcomes to however these are framed, which in itself is not very agile.
  • The roster is easily big enough (c. £100m) to allow for economies of scale even with more than one NV.
  • It gives bidders for the neutral vendor contract twice as much chance of winning, albeit for a share of the pie.

A different sort of framework

I know other frameworks (e.g. Sprint ii) operate with a single neutral vendor. But this new Agile framework is about doing things differently, so I really hope this suggestion for more than one neutral vendor is considered, and – in an ideal world – a cost/benefit created, prior to the tender.

Link: OJEU announcement

Tags: Digital strategyAgileScrum

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