Written by David Bicknell

Published 31 July 2017 in  Government Computing

Timeline indicates Request to Participate deadline of October 6 with prospective dynamic purchasing system go live date of October 16

The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has continued its engagement with prospective suppliers over its procurement plans for Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) Access Services (RM3825).

Material recently presented by CCS’ commercial director for networks, Ieuan Trigger, detailed the procurement plans, including the results of discussions over the procurement route and a timeline giving key dates.

According to the documents, “connectivity and mobility” procurement will use the Network Services framework for data, voice, mobile and unified communications. In addition, the HSCN and CCS are collaborating to establish a new national agreement, HSCN Access Services (RM3825), which will be dedicated to making HSCN connectivity readily available from all HSCN compliant suppliers.

This agreement can be used by, or on behalf of, UK public sector bodies who have a need for the provision of data access services, to facilitate connectivity to the HSCN and any additional telecoms and network services.

A first supplier session in June discussed whether a Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) or a framework should be used and on whether terms and conditions should be based on the Network Services framework. A subsequent discussion centred on what areas of the Network Services framework should be changed for the new RM3825 agreement, and also on what would be the challengers for suppliers in bidding.

DPS feedback from one vendor said, “The use of DPS is favourable, and will promote a more competitive marketplace due to the removal of supplier lockout for the duration of the DPS. As a supplier we’d welcome this procurement method.”

Another added, “….the entry costs for a place on a Framework must be low.”

CCS summarised the feedback saying, “The DPS will provide suppliers with a much simpler process for admittance, based on a standard selection questionnaire – quick and simple and standard, based on HSCN compliance.”

On bidding process feedback, suppliers said, “The turnaround time of 10 days to respond to a customer tender can only be achieved by adopting a common set of terms and conditions including SLA’s, reporting requirements and common core service definitions.”

Other feedback was that “….connectivity alone is not best suited to a catalogued environment. In its nature connectivity pricing can fluctuate due to wayleaves, construction, fibre shortage etc. and we would not classify it as a simple product.”

CCS said, “Although there is no direct award route we are working with NHSD to generate standard templates and documentation, along with improved customer guidance on how to procure effectively under RM3825.

The prospective timeline for HSCN procurement indicates that an OJEU publication is expected around September 6, with a Request to Participate Deadline of a month later, on October 6. DPS go live is expected around October 16. Aggregated procurements for London, and for arm’s length bodies for NHS Digital and NHS England are expected to follow after October 2017. Further regional procurements will follow throughout 2018.

Michael Bowyer, creator of the obligations framework for HSCN and director at industry association Innopsis has suggested that for HSCN, successful suppliers will be those that look at other connectivity options to meet goals, injecting innovation into their offerings for example by “embracing universal connectivity and running a service over it”.

He has argued that there will be a move from more traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) offerings to Software Defined Networking (SDN) hosted in the cloud, which, he said,  is “great news for the most innovative and flexible suppliers and even better news for those at the receiving end – the NHS. HSCN is a deliberately loose framework with a minimum set of standards to enable this innovation to take place as the market matures.”

Bowyer has suggested that the most successful suppliers will not only be those that innovate, but those that are able to support their customers and navigate them through the complexities of the transition from N3 to HSCN. Innopsis says its role is to support those suppliers, particularly smaller players, to enable all to compete on a level playing field and deliver a truly disaggregated model.

However, although there are expected to be opportunities for SMEs through the HSCN procurement, there remain some fears that current implementation delays risk squeezing small to medium enterprise (SMEs) out of the market.

The HSCN procurement process is estimated to be currently around three months behind schedule and while larger suppliers can comfortably budget for an eighteen-month or even two-year procurement window, SMEs generally struggle to manage long, drawn-out procurement schedules.

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