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Using the Digital Services Framework for discovery

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Discovery, as I outlined in a previous post, is the process of collecting evidence to support the development of your proposition and then laying down a plan for how you will make this a reality.

This is a crucial part of any digital project and as such, is one of the things we consider during the spend approval process.

Whilst the discovery should ideally be carried out in-house, we’ve heard from a few organisations that they don’t currently have people with the capacity or capability required to do this.

This post helps to explain how you can use the Digital Services Framework to overcome this obstacle so you don’t compromise this development stage.

You can read about the background of the framework on the GDS blog. In short, this framework has been specifically put together to support the Digital by Default agenda. It provides quick (2-8 weeks on average) and easy access to pre-approved suppliers that can design, build and deliver digital services using an agile approach.

The Crown Commercial Service (previously known as the Government Procurement Service) is currently responsible for the framework and will support you through every stage of the process. We (DH Digital) will connect you to the most relevant person there once your spend request has been approved.

The process for supplementing your team with additional capability such as some ad hoc business analysts or product managers will involve:

1)     Creating a long list of suppliersthe Digital Store will allow you to identify a number of suppliers that are able to meet your requirements. They have been categorised to align with the agile process and can be filtered by capability/role, region, phase of project, technology or language.

2)     Creating a short list of suppliers – You can do this by emailing a brief to your long list of suppliers and asking them to respond with a high level summary of their availability, capacity, method for meeting your business outcomes/ user needs and estimated cost.

The Pre-Tender Market Engagement Template will help you to structure your approach.

The supplier’s responses will enable you to; test the market’s appetite for your project, refine your requirements and identify which of them are suitable to continue through to the next round.

3)     Selecting a supplier – This is done by sending a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the shortlisted suppliers and asking them to elaborate further on their offer.

The Customer Requirements Specification template will help structure what you’re looking for in terms of: overall outcomes, capabilities or role function, pricing model, location, testing and development.

Once you have assessed the written responses, it is best practice to invite those suppliers that are able to meet your requirements to present their proposals in person. This doesn’t have to be really formal but will provide you with a chance to clarify information directly and importantly allow you to see if they will be a good cultural fit.

Your CCS and / or procurement colleagues should come along to these meetings. They can help you create a scoring matrix to assess the suppliers against and can provide an evaluation from a commercial point of view.

4)     Awarding a contract – In order to start the work you will need to award a flexible Call-Off Contract. This means that at any point (although generally after each major release) you can undertake a business, technical or commercial review and decide on your next steps. This may be to continue with the same supplier but you also have the option to test the market for alternative suppliers without being liable for costs of termination.

This approach derisks your project by allowing you to remain in control. The DSF contract ensures that it remains commercially flexible so that you can use the best supplier available rather than being locked in to the same supplier for the end to end programme.

 5)     Share statement of work with supplier – the SOW accompanies the contract and provides the detail of what you require for any ‘chunk’ of work or project phase in terms of outcomes, team make-up, timescales and cost.

You are likely to raise a number of SOW depending on how many sprints it takes for your project or the part of the project you are undertaking. Your local procurement team will advise how these fit with purchase orders and invoicing.


So this approach will hopefully help you to fill any resource gaps internally so that your discovery is as robust as possible.

Whilst this blog gives an overview of the process, it doesn’t go into all the detail. If you have any questions, DH procurement will be able to support.

Further reading:

If you would like to do some further reading the digital services buyers guide is a good place to start.

The service manual also has some useful links:

Working with specialists
Choosing your supplier

Side note: If you are looking to buy a commodity (e.g. IT infrastructure, hosting, software, software licensing) you should use GCloud. If you are looking to purchase consultancy services or contractors you should use Consultancy One or Contingent Labour One. 

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Matt posted on

    Good stuff, again, Rebecca. Well done!