We mentioned in our Newswire last week that the UK’s Local Government Association (LGA) – a membership of councils working to influence central government on issues that matter to local authorities – had released its National Technological and Digital Procurement Category Strategy guidance. This week we thought we’d take a closer look.

The document is produced with input from local government officers and suppliers, commercial directors and chief information officers from across local government, Government Digital Service, the entire local government supply chain (internal and external including SMEs and large multi-nationals ), professional buying organisations, Crown Commercial Services, professional networks, and various London Boroughs and county councils from across the nation. So it would be safe to say the public sector is pretty well represented. It was developed, from this input and from feedback from workshops it held and consultation exercises, to help councils make good choices in procuring contracts for IT services. Given IT is the most significant spend category in local government, this is an important strategy.

The challenge for IT procurement today, it says, is to create the agility and flexibility needed to meet the unprecedented demand for new technology and new ways of using technology in a way which manages risk and does not compromise probity or value. ‘Digital’ is not just about more IT, it advises, or about automation and self-service,  it’s about fundamentally changing the way councils operate, from top to bottom – governance, roles, risk management, decision making, policies, democratic process, citizen engagement, staff responsibility, structures and, of course, processes. So it’s a fairly hefty document, but well segmented and navigable.

It focuses on three main themes:

  • Procurement Practice – which discusses spending wisely, working with SMEs and local suppliers, the merits and risks of insourcing and outsourcing, learning from past experiences, building more flexibility into IT contracts (creating space for adaptability rather than relying on predictability in IT tendering, thus allowing for scope for innovation), adopting strategic IT sourcing methods (to ensure well-informed decision-making around whether to re-tender, renew or renegotiate contracts), common and shared procurement routes and frameworks (such as G-Cloud to reduce the costs of IT procurement, to save time and to increase choice of solutions available to local government).
  • IT as an enabler – supporting the development of smart places, securing maximum benefits from IT spend in terms of business, transport, jobs, public services and economic growth from the technology sector in particular; working with suppliers to improve their understanding of local government in order to improve tender responses and delivered value for suppliers and their local government clients; developing more business-like and commercial models for councils in order to generate new revenue, increase productivity, maximise revenue collection, be easier to work with and to improve efficiency.
  • Other considerations – which covers things like: making best use of IT and data assets; expanding on open source opportunities, championing interoperability and greater use or technology standards throughout the sector, promoting open data, and resisting unnecessary proprietary or customised IT solutions; maximise the potential from sharing technology infrastructures across local public services, such as health, police and other councils, by adopting common and appropriate technology standards, preventing fraud.

It delves into each theme in quite some detail, and extrapolates on each of the key points mentioned above. Then, at the end of each section it gives a concise key message followed by ‘what councils should do’ advice.

For example, on Data and Information it states:

Key Message: In local government there is an increasing focus on information exploitation. This means that systems need to hold data securely, but not to imprison it. Applications must be widely accessible, from any device, by any organisation, and by more people. This easier and intuitive, or automated access, should be designed without compromising privacy or confidentiality, which are central to public trust in digital services and their resultant take up.

Councils should: When procuring new IT systems, make sure that they write into their specifications the need to support emerging information standards, recommended best practice for supporting data schemas and publishing strategy at the local government open data resource.

And on Open Source IT it states:

Key message: Open source and ‘vanilla’ solutions should be preferred. This can also assist with the widest possible use of technologies without the need for re-tendering or repurposing existing IT investments.

Councils should: Make sure when tendering for technology solutions that sufficient attention is given to open APIs, use of common tools, and standards that allow for interoperability – between systems as well as organisations.

There are also user case studies and some learnings from other councils. So whether you work in a public body that is already employing these strategies for digital and IT procurement, or working towards them, it is worth noting that this guidance is aimed at everyone, whether seeking to become a ‘digital leader’ or embarking on the digital journey.

The report can be accessed here.

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