The Digital Marketplace Contenders, 11: Spend Network

The whole Government Cloud sourcing vehicle is great if you’re educated in digital services and you’ve got a clear idea of your needs – but its not so good if you approach it from the angle of, “I work in Social Care, what is there to help me do my job better?” says this supplier of procurement and contract data to the public sector. Does it have a point?

Posted 7 June 2017 by Gary Flood

In the latest of our profiles of interesting new suppliers on the Digital Marketplace, we meet Croydon-based Spend Network, a specialist on public sector procurement tracking, sitting down with the company’s founder, Ian Makgill.
Welcome to the Digital Marketplace Contenders, Mr Makgill. Let’s start by you telling us about your company; what’s your value proposition?
Spend Network gathers all of the open data on procurement and uses this data to help Government improve its purchasing, whether that’s with the aim of cost reduction, prevention of fraud and waste or improving social outcomes. It’s an  easy to use open data tool for government and its suppliers, in essence. We’ve been gathering data since 2011 from across the public sector, so we understand what is happening in Central Government, the NHS and at the local authority level, too. Because we go further than anyone else in fastidiously gathering as much data as we can, we’re able to either provide or analyse the data that helps buyers deliver against their priorities, basically.
Sounds interesting. What is the relevance for the public sector?
Our services give buyers the ability to evidence what works in procurement. By and large, as you and your readers will know, the sector is already getting great prices for most goods and services – which is fine, but that means  future savings are going to be harder to come by, and buyers are going to need to evidence their specific tactics on what will deliver savings. Which is where we come in! We analyse the market to show where the best opportunities for the savings managers want to make lie.
For example, with our data you can quickly grasp which of your peer public sector bodies tend to be delivering the same service for less, or spending less on the same category of goods or services. We can also show how competitive a given market is, or how suppliers perform once they’re contracted. All of this data can help deliver a different, more sophisticated approach to delivering the savings from procurement policy-makers demand.
Why are you on The Digital Marketplace now, and what do you hope to achieve?
We’re on both G-Cloud and DOS, in actual fact. And that’s because we love the competitiveness and transparency of the G-Cloud/Digital Marketplace frameworks… the easy access to information in the Marketplace, especially on pricing, makes it so much easier for buyers to understand what they’re buying, and at what price. Having said that, I’d love to see it become more dynamic with suppliers able to change their pricing as they respond to RFPs posted on the site.
As for our goals – in a funny way, we’d love to see ourselves made redundant somehow. I know that’s a slightly odd view of the world for a supplier, but there’s a really urgent need for better data analysis in the area of procurement – and despite a large amount of data being available, there’s far too little systematic analysis of what is bought, and how contracts actually perform in the public sector space. I feel that we would have succeeded when Government realises that there has to be a procurement data function for Government and they’re doing the work that we do for itself.
Interesting. How did you find the process of on-boarding onto the Marketplace? Do you have any guidance or others on the basis of that experience?
This year was good, for G9; so many improvements have been made, and the process is simple. Sure, you have to hold your nose and just sign on the contract, as there’s some quite tough clauses in there, but we accept the need for Government to protect itself.  My only criticism its that there’s still a tendency to see the marketplace in GDS’s own image, if you like… so DOS is structured with the anticipation that you need to fit into a small shortlist of skills, but that’s not how many of the buyers approach the market, especially in the wider public sector.
If you look at local councils, for example, they need geographic data for waste management, demographic data for social care and transport data for their transport teams. Digital Outcomes should be able to qualify suppliers with specific skills and experience in the services that these guys need to fulfill, not just the services that GDS buys. Right now, the whole Government Cloud sourcing vehicle is great if you’re educated in digital services and you’ve got a clear idea of your needs, but its not so good if you approach it from the angle of, “I work in Social Care, what is there to help me do my job better?”
Good point, and I think our readers will respond to that. Last question for now, Ian; If ThinkDigitalPartners.com came back to talk to you in a year, what would you like to be able to say you’d achieved on G9?
I’d love to be able to say that we’re making a difference – whether that’s helping more SMEs into contracting, or delivering savings with a group of buyers. The bottom line is that we take the old fashioned view that we’re only going to be successful if we’re helping our clients achieve their goals, so let’s be judged on that metric?
Sounds good, and good luck on The Digital Marketplace!