Digital Services buyers' guide

Updated 27 June 2016

This publication was archived on 27 June 2016.

1. Using the Digital Marketplace

You can use the Digital Marketplace to find people to support agile development projects (eg building a content publishing app or integrating an online payment tool). Suppliers listed on the store can give you access to digital specialists like technical architects and user researchers.

All public sector organisations, including agencies and arm’s length bodies, can use the Digital Marketplace.

All the digital specialist services included on the Digital Marketplace are listed on the Digital Services framework, and all suppliers have successfully been through the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) procurement process.

There are over 160 suppliers on the Digital Services framework, who provide all or some of the following capabilities:

Capabilities Linked roles
Software engineering and ongoing support Developer, technical architect, quality assurance analyst
Agile product design and delivery Delivery manager, product manager, business analyst, performance analyst, portfolio manager, service manager
Front-end design and interaction design Designer
Content design, editorial and development Content designer
System administration and web operations Web operations, security specialist, database specialist, network specialist
User research User researcher
Embedding Agile Agile coach

You can commission a supplier to provide an individual, a team or a group of roles based on capability needed, location and grade.

You must still follow best practice for procurement when using the Digital Marketplace, which includes always:

  • searching by capability
  • making your decision-making process auditable

2. Buying digital specialist services on the Digital Marketplace

You must follow these steps to buy services from the Digital Services framework:

  1. Prepare your requirements – a list of ‘must-haves’ and ‘wants’. Your list will form the basis of your request for proposal (RFP) document.
  2. Get approval to buy what you need.
  3. Search for the project capabilities you need on the Digital Marketplace so you can create a shortlist of appropriate suppliers and prices.
  4. Send your RFP to all the suppliers on your list.
  5. Evaluate suppliers’ responses to the RFP to find the one that meets your needs and offers best value for money.
  6. Award call-off contracts with statements of work (SOW).

Financial and timescale commitments happen at the SOW stage, so you can use multiple suppliers and switch suppliers as required.

The managed service

For some departments, the process of buying services must be managed by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). This ‘managed service’ offers commercial and technical guidance and support. Buyers in central government, including devolved administrations, arm’s length bodies and executive agencies, must use the managed service. Other public sector organisations can access it if they need to.

If you want to discuss the managed service approach to using this framework, email

2.1 Prepare your requirements

We recommend working with both procurement and technical professionals to establish the high-level requirements and timescales of your project.

You may want to consider:

  • the funds you have available to buy the service
  • the technical and procurement requirements of the project
  • the selection criteria on which your choice will be based

Identify what the ‘must-have’ requirements are and what the ‘wants’ are through an outcome-based RFP. Refer to the government’s Service Design Manual to help you describe your needs.

2.2 Get approval to buy what you need

GDS holds the government’s digital and IT spend control. This means that all funding requests for new or redesigned digital services need formal approval by GDS. You’ll also need to have approval from within your organisation.

2.3 Search for the project capabilities you need to create a list of suppliers

Use the Digital Marketplace to create a list of suppliers to whom the RFP will be sent. You must search by supplier specialism, eg Embedding agile, and use filters to narrow down the list to suppliers who:

  • have the required capabilities
  • have the required technology and language domain expertise
  • can deploy their staff to fulfil these roles at the customer’s location(s)

You may wish to export the supplier longlist into an eSourcing tool, which includes templates for your requirements and allows you to compare suppliers.

2.4 Send your RFP to all the suppliers on your list

The suppliers who respond to your RFP will form your shortlist.

2.5 Evaluate suppliers’ responses

Evaluate suppliers’ responses to the RFP by looking at their:

  • technical proposals (which may include workshops with the suppliers who have passed the technical evaluation of their written submissions)
  • commercial or financial proposals (for the RFP template please email

Evaluate the suppliers’ financial proposals by assessing the responses and choosing the best final offer.

2.6 Award call-off contracts with statements of work (SOW)

After the technical evaluation, choose the supplier whose financial proposal is the best value for money, accounting for day rate, travel and subsistence costs. Contracts should always be awarded based on the most economically advantageous tender.

This also applies for complex requirements, eg to create a delivery team employing many different roles from 1 or more suppliers, over several project phases.

This type of contract is called a call-off contract.

Call-off contracts and SOW

Successful suppliers will be awarded call-off contracts with associated SOW to carry out your digital project requirements.

Awarding a call-off contract allows you to raise multiple SOW or purchase orders for the work packages required to deliver the project stages defined in the RFP (eg 3 sprints of 2 weeks per sprint). Contractual commitment is limited to each SOW.

The successful suppliers’ response to the RFP forms the basis of the content for the SOW. There is no commitment to spend or duration at the call-off contract stage until the SOW is agreed by all parties. A SOW usually contains:

  • details of sprint in terms of project phase
  • outcomes
  • team make-up
  • timescales
  • cost

3. Choosing the right framework

The Digital Services framework is an agreement between the government and suppliers who provide people to design and build digital services.

The basic terms of use have already been agreed between the government and suppliers following a formal OJEU procurement process. Suppliers on the Digital Services framework must:

Products and services that aren’t offered through the Digital Services framework include:

  • hardware
  • infrastructure
  • hosting
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software
  • software licensing

Other frameworks exist, eg G-Cloud and Public Services Network (PSN), which may provide solutions for these products and services. If you need these, please email

Read more about the framework in the Digital Services detailed guide.

4. Continuing or ending services

Services bought through the Digital Services framework can’t be extended. Contract awards can last for up to 24 months with any number of statements of work.

5. After your contract expires

As you approach the end of the call-off contract and your required outcomes have been achieved (eg public beta of a redesigned digital service), you’ll need to re-evaluate your need. Next, you’ll need to compete to award call-off contracts with new suppliers who can take your service further.

If you have any questions relating to the Digital Services framework or the buying process, please email