Neil Roberts, head of public sector at Fortrus, shares his experiences of this momentous year so far and explains the Fortrus Framework
Q: An interesting start to the year for us all, how has your business been impacted?
A: Yes, it’s definitely been an unusual year so far, but we’ve been busier than ever. In many respects its been business as usual, but there has also been a significant increase in procurement activity channelling through the framework.
Q: The Fortrus Framework sounds like an interesting proposition; for those who aren’t familiar with it, can you provide a little background?
A: In 2019 Fortrus was awarded a pan-public sector digital transformation framework, now operating as the Fortrus Framework. It acts as a pre-approved route to market for our customers; a pre-competed, OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) compliant framework that can be used by any public sector body seeking to digitally transform their organisation. While it’s solely operated by Fortrus, one of its unique benefits is that we operate it as a true multi-vendor framework. We proactively engage suppliers to enable them to work individually, or collaboratively with other suppliers, in delivering the outcomes our clients need and we can let contracts for up to ten years’ duration.
It is not only the scalability of the framework that sets it apart, it is the fact that Fortrus was awarded the framework based upon our extensive subject matter expertise across the public sector, combined with our understanding of the commercial models and constraints public sector bodies operate within.
Q: Which organisations can use the framework and is there a limit to the scale of project that would fit within it?
A: The framework is completely versatile and allows any public sector body to transform itself digitally. That can range from commodity purchases, such as laptops and licences, in order to mobilise a workforce due to the coronavirus, for instance, or to deliver a very complex programme, such as a cloud migration strategy for UK policing. Indeed, we actively collaborate with police forces directly, as well as providing £1 billion of capacity to policing in partnership with the Police ICT Company (PICTCo), which has been a very successful partnership for us and PICTCo due to our capability to deliver national public sector economies of scale.
Q: Why do we need another framework?
A: Traditional procurement routes can be protracted and lack agility. Agility lies at the heart of the Fortrus Framework, as does partnership. Most procurement exercises are adversarial; they deliberately force public bodies to choose between suppliers rather than working with them collaboratively to get the best outcome.
The Fortrus Framework enables public sector bodies to procure and deliver solutions that harness the best capabilities from tech startups through to large systems integrators, or a combination of them. The important thing is to understand the outcome being aimed for and to build a partnership that will deliver it. Our capacity to procure that outcome in the most cost-effective and timely manner is where we come in.
Q: It almost sounds too good to be true?
A: I hear that expression a lot and it’s always a rewarding experience to prove just how effective the framework is, particularly the speed with which an organisation can procure. As I said before, this agility is crucial to delivering digital transformation.
Q: Digital transformation is increasingly important in the provision of public services. What advice can you give public sector chief executives in procuring digital transformation solutions?
A: My advice would be to think about digital transformation as a different beast to traditional purchases. Procurement strategies are typically based on delivering products and solutions that are either static, such as stationery or hardware orders, or change relatively slowly, such as desktop applications. Digital transformation, by its very nature, is fluid and we cannot expect the same procurement practices to apply.
During lockdown the government relaxed procurement legislation. This was to stimulate the end-to-end supply chain to perform efficiently. We see that as a tacit acceptance of the fact that current procurement practices can stifle efficiency and innovation. A large part of our role, and our value, is to bring procurement advice within your organisation up to current capabilities. We meet a lot of procurement directors who privately admit they have a real trepidation in stepping away from their known routes, but at the same time they acknowledge procurement needs to transform too.
When embarking on a digital transformation, Fortrus will quickly understand what you’re trying to achieve, clarify and develop the outcomes you’re looking to deliver, and then work with more than 150 of our partners to shape a solution and achieve that outcome for you.
This can be as a procurement only, or procurement and delivery, through to a full ten-year managed service. This approach helps to manage risk too. You procure once, directly, with Fortrus as the prime, and have peace of mind that they will manage an ecosystem of vendors to deliver the transformation you are looking to achieve. And if one of the vendors in the chain fails to deliver, Fortrus can simply and quickly swap out that failing component without the need for reprocurement.
Q: What three things can business leaders take away and do differently today, and what should they do differently with their next procurement?
A: Firstly, ensure their procurement includes innovation. Digital transformation as an agenda can only be met by using innovative, new capabilities to throw off the shackles of legacy technical debt to deliver efficient, accessible and inclusive public services.
As an example, British small and medium-sized enterprises drive and stimulate much-needed innovation. Very often these businesses would be precluded at the pre-qualification questionnaire stage of any traditional procurement process. The Fortrus Framework provides a route to market for these transformative organisations that hitherto didn’t exist.
Secondly, you should challenge reliance on traditional procurement routes. Spending public money to jump over the procurement hurdles unnecessarily is a thing of the past. Forcing vendors through expensive bid processes costs them money that they will always need to recoup in the cost of the transformation they deliver. Again, this negatively impacts the public purse. The time it takes to create a strategy, go to market, adhere to old-fashioned processes, award and then manage component vendors, and the risk of delivery, can be drastically reduced and mitigated.
Finally, look for the obvious economies of scale. Public services need to be seamlessly interoperable with those who consume them. When creating your transformation strategy, look to those other public bodies you interface with. Work collectively to identify opportunities to procure outcomes together. Fortrus can draw upon its knowledge of public services, vendor community capabilities and our stimulated innovations to deliver cross-vertical outcomes at pace and without risk.
Q: What actionable options are there for someone part way through a traditional procurement?
A: Stopping a public sector procurement is very rarely done. The protracted nature and the cost to organisations often means they continue even though what they are doing might not be the fittest-for-purpose process.
The direct award nature of the Fortrus Framework, supported by subject-matter expertise, means organisations can, with confidence, review their current course of action and move very quickly to remediate. There is a better way to take public sector organisational requirements to market, to get the services the public needs efficiently and effectively.
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