The Government has just released new guidance on sourcing and contracting for digital, data and technology projects and programmes. Whilst The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook (DDTP) is only mandated for central government departments and arms-length bodies on a ‘comply or explain’ basis, it is expected to be taken into account by the wider public sector also. With an estimated public sector spend of £46 billion on digital in 2021/22, this represents a useful addition to the Government’s suite of ‘playbooks’.

The DDTP sets out best practice for specific topics spanning the entire commercial lifecycle from preparation and planning, through the procurement process and into contract delivery underpinned by the following six cross-cutting priorities:

  1. Taking an outcome-based approach
  2. Avoiding and remediating legacy IT
  3. Cyber security – secure by design
  4. Enabling innovation
  5. Driving sustainability
  6. Levelling the playing field for SMEs

Much of what is contained in the DDTP will seem familiar and links to guidance that can be found in similar playbooks recently issued by the Government. Some of the content also speaks to wider government policy initiatives and the reforms envisaged by the Government’s green paper Transforming public procurement such as, for example, publishing pipelines of current and future contracts, the increased focus on early pre-market engagement, the development of specifications that align with the Government’s wider economic, social and environmental priorities and making full use of the ‘most advantageous tender’ (MAT) evaluation methodology.

The importance of effective delivery model assessment and identifying the optimum commercial and contracting strategy cannot be underestimated for digital, data and technology projects. Outcome-based approaches will be most appropriate for the development of agile and innovative technology solutions and it is crucial that the most appropriate procurement procedure is chosen to facilitate this.

Notwithstanding the framework-first approach seemingly advocated by the DDTP, this route to contract may not be suitable for many technology projects, particularly where the requirement is complex and bespoke and the framework being considered is very generic, broadly scoped and intended for use by many different contracting authorities with varying priorities. It is worth noting that the Government’s green paper proposal to introduce the ‘competitive flexible procedure’ has a huge amount of potential to enable the procurement of innovative digital, data and technology solutions, however. Contracting authorities will be able to flex and scale this freely available procedure to reflect the size, complexity and level of agility required for different requirements rather than being restricted to using the rigid set of procedures provided by the current rules.