The launch of the government’s new Network Services Framework represents better opportunities for SMEs and much more flexibility and cost efficiencies for public sector buyers, according to the industry group set up to try and promote take up on PSN, or Public Services Network.
We caught up with two representatives of that body, PSBNGB, to hear more: Neil Mellor, marketing director and Mike Thomas, managing director, have just shared with 24N.biz their thoughts on recent development with the Public Services Network (PSN) framework.
The PSNGB is a not-for profit trade association representing any individual or company involved the PSN marketplace. It currently has around 60 members, the majority of which are SMEs such as telecoms firm Updata Infrastructure.
PSN is a term that can be applied to a number of different things, including the Public Services Network – the communication infrastructure and standards used by the public sector.
However, PSN can also apply to two different procurement frameworks where products sold may or may not be used for the Network: it turns out all kinds of things, from mobile to video conferencing, can be purchased via the framework.
Because both PSN and non-PSN services can be procured via the current PSN frameworks, the new framework will be known as the Network Services Framework to try and avoid any potential confusion.
Mellor: They haven’t seen the volume of business through them that was originally envisaged and they’ve probably been less easy to use than was hoped originally. They haven’t gone quite as well as they could have done. However, they’re due to be replaced next year anyway by the new Network Services Framework.
Thomas: It’s quite interesting to see the differences that are coming through on the new network and it’s getting a lot closer to the aims we had originally.
Mellor: It was quite difficult to get on the frameworks in the first place, so there are only a relatively small number of companies on those frameworks. That was quite difficult.
Thomas: The old PSN frameworks were put into place probably before everything was ready, so consequently followed a bit more of a traditional route and didn’t exploit the potential benefits that could have been there.
Mellor: This time round the bar has been lowered appropriately so it will be easier for companies, in particular smaller companies, to get onto those frameworks. They look like they will be more accessible. If they’re more accessible, they’ll have more suppliers in there: if there’s a better choice of suppliers and services, we’ll get more customers in.
They also look more flexible as well. Different user needs look like they will be accommodated better on this new framework.
Thomas: Flexibility. Flexibility is the big thing. In public sector it’s not unheard of if someone wants something simple like an audio conferencing service, to be able to go and buy one it’s not unusual for someone from procurement to go and produce a 400-page document about it and start off on that basis.
It gets exceedingly complicated to do something that is relatively simple.
[The framework] breaks through all that procurement red tape and allows, for the majority of items, if you know what you want, you can go and buy it.
Thomas: What we’ve been doing as far as PSNGB is concerned, because realistically we’ve been involved since the beginning, is we’ve been advising CCS (Crown Commercial Service) about the things that have been put in there that seem fairly reasonable but just shut out the majority of SMEs.
We want to encourage SMEs to be in this marketplace. We’re trying to make it a level playing field so respective of whatever sized organisation you are, you stand an equal chance of being able to play in this environment.
SMEs can bring an awful lot of benefit to industry, to the public sector where used appropriately.
Getting the right sort of organisation for the right sort of opportunity is always going to be important.
Mellor: This is in line with overall policy. What we’re seeing so far [with the framework] is the right direction of travel.
To run a procurement exercise is not a cheap thing. There’s a lot of risk associated with it and the risk must be mitigated, so this is never cheap.
Mellor: It’s the better route for most things.
Both suppliers and buyers now have a very short window of opportunity to engage with CCS and tell it what they want to see from the framework and ensure whatever they want to see included is heard and considered.