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The Digital Marketplace vision: part 6

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In my last blog post about the Digital Marketplace vision, I talked about how we’d like to help build digital and technology buying capability across government by connecting teams in a growing community of like-minded people. I also spoke about how we want to provide opportunities for diverse learning, coaching, and knowledge sharing.

At the heart of this, cooperation and collaboration are what really make the difference.

This post will be a continuation of this theme but on a national and international level, to support our vision for scaling up our ambitions.

Going wholesale: scaling the Digital Marketplace

Over the past 12 months, I’ve been talking more and more with other governments around the world who are interested in sharing, reusing and learning from what the Digital Marketplace, and more broadly the Government Digital Service (GDS), have achieved over the last 5 years.

Things like our:

An important first step is to be open, with our code, our designs, our ideas, our intentions, and our failures, because it’s by being open that we can make things better.

It starts with a conversation

Following a meeting in September of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ‘E-Leaders’ group in Tallinn, Estonia, I was invited to represent the UK government as the lead of a group of OECD countries - Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Chile. All of these nations share a common interest in reforming digital and technology procurement.

Early next year we’ll begin discussions alongside my colleague Chad Bond, who’s Head of the GDS Standards Assurance Team. They work with all central government departments to help them through digital service assessments and spending controls. Through this work, in the 2015 to 2016 financial year, they’ve helped to save £339 million.

Two weeks ago I was in Delhi representing GDS and the Digital Marketplace at the UK-India Ease of Doing Business conference. This was organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was signed between our two countries when Prime Minister Theresa May visited India in early November.

I presented the Digital Marketplace vision to representatives from all the state governments of India as well as central government departments. Presentations were also given by UK colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, HM Revenue & Customs, Land Registry, the Insolvency Service, and the Food Standards Agency.

A common theme among these presentations was the importance of deregulation, simplification and harmonisation of government policies, processes and practices, to make it easier to do business.

It’s good to talk…

Across all of these conversations, sharing, reusing and learning have been dominant topics.

These aren’t just one-sided, UK-centric conversations. It’s quickly become apparent that we all have common ambitions, challenges and opportunities to move forward together.

Conversations are now turning to much deeper collaboration; joint approaches to research, design, development and delivery of a range of things that all contribute to the reform of public procurement and contracting.

...but actions speak louder than words

In May my colleague Kevin Keenoy gave an eloquent update on our progress with becoming a platform. Since then the Australian Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has used our code to create their Digital Marketplace, which they launched as a public beta in just 5 weeks.

In part 3 of this series, I wrote about how we’re deliberately choosing to tackle thin slices through the whole system of public sector procurement and contracting because it’s too large and complex to modernise in one go.

These thin slices are represented by the components that make up the Digital Marketplace. Each has a specific role and responsibility, where data and services are provided to and consumed by the other components throughout the end-to-end buying journey.

The best way to build services so good that users prefer them, is to start small and iterate wildly. This reduces risk, makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons.

Building on the work of others

Now this is where things start getting even more exciting; the DTA recently developed something that we’re very interested in, so we’ve used their code and quickly started prototyping.

This component will enable buyers to create online call-off contracts and statements of work (SOWs), using the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), which can be easily published to Contracts Finder.

This complements several other components we’re working on that relate to framework agreements and call-off contracts, such as:

We’ll blog more soon about this prototype and expand on the commitments to better open source practices that were made at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit earlier this month in Paris. This will include the next steps for open source in government, and other examples of how like-minded people from around the world are lowering the risk of experimentation with open source code.

Going local, globally

In a recent blog post, John Davies, Senior Technology Advisor at the Department for International Trade (DIT) talks about “going local, globally”. He writes that the lines between local and global business have become blurred to the point of extinction, with this particularly the case in the technology industry.

The Digital Marketplace is lowering barriers to entry to the UK public sector market for digital and technology suppliers. Over time, this plays a small but important part in domestic and international trade. For example:

  • stimulating regional clusters of digital and technology supply and innovation
  • increasing export opportunities for these companies, through collaboration with government departments like DIT and agencies like Innovate UK
  • encouraging inward investment in the UK’s digital and technology sectors

I think of these as trade design patterns, which help to create the right environments in which domestic and international business can flourish.

This is something we’re looking to support in other governments who want to adopt the UK Digital Marketplace approach, working alongside others in the Department for International Development, FCO and DIT. It's complementary to existing efforts to help make government more open and to deregulate, simplify and harmonise government policies, processes and practices.

The open approaches I talked about in part 2 of this series, are central to this.

Openness builds trust, confidence and markets

In part 4 of this series, I talked about trust being vital for the adoption of new ideas, and openness and transparency are vital for trust to develop.

This all helps build confidence, which in turn helps to stimulate the markets for modern, emerging and enabling technologies, and creative service design and delivery models, including:

  • open data and analytics
  • ‘internet of things’ (IoT)
  • robotics and autonomous systems
  • machine learning
  • utility computing
  • demand-driven innovation, policies and idea generation
  • co-design of citizen-centred services

Earlier this year Tech City partnered with Nesta, the innovation charity, for Tech Nation 2016, tracking regional clusters to gauge the UK’s digital and technology economy.

Graphic showing the number of jobs, the growth and locations of companies involved in the digital economy.
Image source: Tech Nation 2016 in numbers

This report illustrates and details the geographic spread and growth of these digital and technology sectors.

Public sector commissioners across the UK are acutely aware of the issues that face citizens in their areas. Many local councils have great visions for smart, connected cities that will help deliver better public services and urban transformation, by working collaboratively with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations, universities, and the private sector.

Central to this are the modern, emerging and enabling technologies, and creative service design and delivery models, which are also common areas of interest for every other government I’ve spoken to.

Lowering barriers to entry and making it easier to do business is critical to maximise the global public sector’s access to these markets.

The Tech Nation 2017 survey is now closed but I look forward to their latest annual report on the current state of the UK’s digital economy.

Scaling up

As 2016 draws to end, the Digital Marketplace has so far supported UK public sector organisations to spend over £1.6 billion with digital and technology suppliers. 55% of that has been with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which means £1.65 in every £3 spent. That’s way ahead of the government’s ambitious target that £1 in every £3 spent will be with SMEs by 2020.

But this really is just the start. With our second birthday just behind us, we’re getting ready for scaling things up to enable other public sector contracting organisations, whether in the UK or other governments, to at least be able to open and award their own framework agreements on the Digital Marketplace.

A global community of collaborators is growing around the idea that user-centred, design-led, data-driven, and open approaches, can bring about the much needed reform of public procurement and contracting.

What we’ll do next

This is the last part in the series of 6 blog posts in which I’m talking about the Digital Marketplace vision.

As always, we’ll be thinking out loud by blogging here regularly. Sign up to follow the Digital Marketplace blog to track our progress.

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