Crown Marketplace – The Future of Procurement?

The UK could soon be a global leader as far as procurement is concerned. The Crown Commercial Service (CCS), an executive agency sponsored by the Cabinet Office and responsible for providing commercial services to the public sector, is hard at work testing its innovative Crown Marketplace (CMp) scheme. The CMp is a fascinating prospect, the main focus of which is reducing bureaucracy and spend in public procurement.

A good analogy for CMp, and one that the CCS team has frequently used, is that it will be the Amazon of the public sector. The idea is that there will be an online digital marketplace, similar in format to the global force that is Amazon. Suppliers will have profiles on the platform, and pages for all their products. There will even be a review system, so that buyers can provide public feedback against suppliers.

CMp will not replace the tenders (good news for Momentum Bids). Suppliers will still have to go through the bidding process that we all know and love to hate. Once they have secured a place on a framework or DPS (dynamic purchasing system), they will be able to present on CMp to the buyers using that framework/DPS. This should make competition on frameworks more dynamic, rather than the top scoring supplier winning all the work.

CCS recently hosted a webinar on CMp, and how their pilot phase has been going. So far, there are 1800 registered suppliers, and £30 million of purchases have passed through the CMp. The focus up to now has been on technology products, such as IT equipment; a logical place to start, due to the commoditised nature of the industry. The team reiterated their aim for “all common goods and services to be digitised,” with immediate priorities being consultancy and network services. They also stressed, however, that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” I have some sympathy for them: UK public sector bureaucracy is challenging even from my mostly removed position.

What’s on CMp right now.

There was a brilliant piece of news for SMEs in that 60% of the business won through CMp so far has gone to small and mediums sized businesses. This is a huge step up from the current spend of about 25%, and above the Government’s target of 33%. The figure will likely go down once CMp opens up to more complex contracts that can only be delivered by larger companies.

A guest on the webinar asked a pertinent question: will this replace the Digital Marketplace (a similar scheme CCS already runs for digital services, also known as G-Cloud)? The team responded by saying they plan to bring the two marketplaces together in the medium-term future. Ultimately, they want to have one online marketplace for everything.

The Crown Marketplace is still in beta testing. The team were unable to give firm dates as to when a larger roll-out will commence, for which I’m thankful. It’s important CCS get this right, and if they do, it could be a game changer in procurement the world over.