Thirty3: Getting the data right for changing procurement
My journey onboarding boroughs to use LOTI’s new Thirty3 platform has shown that getting the basics right is hard for most boroughs but that in order to make the big changes to technology procurement we have been grappling with for many years a solid data foundation is required and internal collaboration is the only way to make this happen.
Changing the technology Landscape in London
Before LOTI there was City Tools, an ambitious project which sought to redress the imbalance between the IT supplier market and its buyers in London, the boroughs. City Tools: London was published in November 2019 as one of LOTI’s first reports with data from 20 boroughs presented in a PowerBI dashboard. Through publishing, information about technology boroughs use for service delivery and back-office functions alongside contract expiry dates, boroughs could start to spot opportunities for collaborative procurement.
The City Tools report found that 50% of services areas procure technology from the same 10 suppliers and that boroughs with a less diverse supplier base felt they were getting lower value for money. Boroughs, working together and agreeing on future requirements have an opportunity to approach the market with one voice, holding increased leverage and power.
Thirty3 is the next iteration of City Tools, building on those same principles but creating a more accessible public database of the London public sector technology landscape. Working with the GLA and Nitrous the scope expanded to include a direct link between boroughs and innovative SME suppliers giving them increased visibility of boroughs procurement pipeline and current technology estate.
Getting Thirty3 up and running
For Thirty3 to work we need the Boroughs to share their data on the technologies they use alongside the corresponding contracts information. I have been working with LOTI members to source this information, building on the data that they have previously submitted to us as part of City Tools. Where we can, we are using the new functionality on Thirty3 to automatically pull contracts information via API from Contracts Finder, London Tenders and Capital e Sourcing drawing publicly available opportunity and awards data on to the site.
However, this is only one part of the picture. Opportunity and Awards posted on to the public sites via boroughs’ internal procurement tools, like Procontact, do not contain all the details. For example, they often don’t pass through information about the awarded supplier and the specified technology in a machine-readable format. This reflects the state of play in most boroughs where IT asset data – the list of technologies used in the borough usually held by IT – does not have a direct link to the contracts awarded data usually held by procurement.
Here, we have a challenge. From the perspective of Thirty3 and building a pan London view of public sector tech, we can’t easily see where contracts are expiring in similar time frames for all technology. From an individual borough perspective, it reveals a risk around keeping track of technology systems on a spend and performance basis. As our forthcoming guide to Innovation and Procurement outlines, the baseline for innovative procurement is maintaining an accurate cross-organisation contracts register so that officers can understand their current technology and contract dependencies for:
- Re-procurement activity
- Spend analysis
- Partnership planning
While publishing this information publicly:
- Supports suppliers to better understand long-term demand for technology products and services, so they can prepare to respond to contract opportunities as they emerge. This can particularly help to widen participation amongst SMEs who tend to have fewer procurement resources.
- Enables other boroughs to identify opportunities for collaboration where you share similar purchasing intentions.
Through the Thirty3 onboarding process I discovered that before having the data ready for public consumption on Thirty3, boroughs aren’t yet in a position where they have this data altogether for their own purposes. The conversations I’ve had with boroughs have highlighted this as an area of ambition that has often fallen to the wayside amongst the many competing priorities that borough officers face and the challenge to keep driving forward projects that require collaboration across multiple services areas, here between procurement and Digital and IT.
While some of the work will involve building new processes and establishing new relationships between borough officers. Waltham Forest, who has been working closely with us to develop the Thirty3 platform, have identified they’re using the unique DN reference number allocated to all contracts in Procontract to help link back into their existing IT asset register. Another borough highlighted that repurposing existing work carried out by their Digital team to understand which current software could be replaced by dynamics or low code products can be a shortcut to creating a complete cross-service IT asset register. Tracing the thread of connection will be a unique task for each organisation but LOTI will share any tips, tricks and approaches that have been successful in other boroughs.
Thirty3: Going Live
As we slowly build up the picture of technology in London the site is beginning to take shape. You can now browse the existing tech in many London boroughs and see some of the procurement awards data pulling through via API from Contracts Finder.
While we are still some way from having all the boroughs’ data up to date, you can get started with exploring the site now to understand which technologies boroughs are using and when their contracts expire.
For Thirty3 to become a valuable resource for your next technology procurement we need support from across the boroughs to populate the site with rich data. Horizon scanning and pre-procurement work can be simplified if we all contribute our insights from across London.
To help us achieve this goal we encourage you to bring together your technology and procurement teams to build your internal data sets of technology and contract data. This won’t be a quick process for any borough, but sometimes it takes getting the basics right whether it’s fixing the plumbing or building digital skills from the bottom up, to achieve our bigger picture strategy.
If we want to be free of frustrating contracts and suppliers that don’t deliver the functionality we need, we need to get the data right. Ultimately if we want to deliver modern public services that work for the residents, business and communities that use them we have to collaborate and we have to share our data and insights so our combined knowledge can make us better buyers of technology.