Mark SayManaging EditorThursday 11 January 2018

Digital SMEs struggle with procurement language

Audit shows suppliers often fail to understand what is required from notices on the Digital Marketplace

A majority of smaller suppliers are struggling to understand opportunities outlined on the Digital Marketplace, according to a newly published audit.

It showed they believed that 71% of the notices did not adequately explain what problem was to be solved and 74% did not clearly describe user needs. Only 13% of the published opportunities were rated as generally good while 65% were rated as bad.

The audit was carried out by digital services provider dxw and, when first announced, received the backing of the Digital Marketplace team in the Government Digital Service (GDS).

It derived from concerns that some of the opportunities published are incomprehensible to all but a few incumbent suppliers, making it more difficult for competitors and for smaller companies to break into the market.

The survey was carried out over three weeks in October using an audit tool built by dxw and took in 2,996 votes on 31 opportunities. All were outcomes opportunities, not those for specialists, and the results were produced from a combination of vote analysis and examination of the data.

Skills, summaries and explanations

Among the other findings were that 77% of opportunities require six or more essential skills, 68% did not have a clear summary of the work, 65% did not adequately explain why the work was being done and 32% did not clearly describe the budget. Also, 45% shortlisted five or more suppliers.

Harry Metcalfe (pictured), managing director of dxw, said: “It seems very likely that the quality of writing in opportunities is putting off SMEs who are more than capable of undertaking these projects. Many opportunities are unclear and some are essentially incomprehensible - except perhaps to the incumbent supplier.

Harry Metcalfe“Clearer opportunities will ensure there is a wider, more diverse pool of suppliers, which will provide greater value for money for the public sector and better services for users.”

He added that he is providing details of the survey to GDS and hopes it will feed into the next version of the Digital Outcomes and Specialist framework (DOS3). Before the survey GDS tweeted it was looking forward to seeing the results.

The Digital Marketplace provides a central hub for public sector organisations to procure digital services.