Define your purchasing strategy

Your purchasing strategy must show you’ve considered commercial and technology aspects, and contractual limitations.

To meet point 11 of the Technology Code of Practice (TCoP) your plans must show:

  • the user need and/or the problem you need to solve
  • your decision process for building or buying technology, how it meets user needs and solves or mitigates your problem
  • how you’re following any government contractual limitations

If you’re going through the spend control process you must explain how you’re meeting point 11.

How defining your purchasing strategy will help your project

Having a clear purchasing strategy can help you understand what components, resources, support and delivery mechanisms you need. It will also help you decide whether you want to build, buy or use a combined approach to deliver your technology project or programme and how to achieve the best social value for money. The benefits of a purchasing strategy include:

  • competitive and innovative commercial products and opportunities
  • greater value from choosing to build or buying your technology
  • long-term financial savings
  • improved supplier negotiations
  • a commercial approach that supports the disaggregation of contracts
  • a smoother transition of knowledge and capability once a contract or programme ends
  • help with the transition to the cloud, commodity and common technology
  • shorter, more manageable contracts with a streamlined renewal process
  • a clearer view of contract status, risks and issues

Discover your requirements and capabilities

By understanding your users’ needs and organisation’s requirements you can assess whether a product can or cannot meet them. You can use EN 301 549 and level AA of the WCAG 2.1 to help you assess the accessibility of the products.

To help you choose your purchasing strategy you should:

  • aim to understand as much of the full cost of building or buying a product as possible
  • decide the upper cost you’re willing to spend based on the business outcomes you want to achieve
  • understand what is available in the technology market
  • understand a product’s lifecycle including building or buying, upgrading, continuous improvement planning and retirement

You should also understand your organisation’s skills and capabilities so you can more easily form a delivery team based on realistic requirements. To help with this you can reference the Digital, Data and Technology Profession Capability Framework (DDaT) or what each role does on a service team.

To maintain a product and avoid creating technical debt and legacy technology, consider how you can do continuous improvement planning. For example, consider automating deployment and conducting regular product testing.

If you identify a common user need with other government or public sector organisations, you might choose to build or buy a product or technology together that you can share, reuse or collaborate. Use open standards and open source software where possible.

Choosing to build technology

Choosing to build gives you more control over your requirements and flexibility to adapt your processes.

You might choose to build all or part of your technology if:

  • your user need is unique or rare, for example, a service only your organisation can provide
  • there are limited suppliers available who can meet your requirements
  • you cannot scale, adapt or integrate available commercial products to meet your core needs
  • you need to own your technology to keep the flexibility to modify it
  • you have access to the capability and resources to manage the project

If you do not have in-house technical capability, you can use the buy-to-build approach. This is where you procure a team or specialists to build your technology or product. You can do this through the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework.

When using buy-to-build make sure the team you employ meets your requirements. You should:

  • have a procurement panel which understands what is needed for each role
  • ask DDaT, the Central Digital and Data Office or Government Digital Services for specialists to sit on the panel if there is a knowledge gap
  • provide the person/organisation running the procurement a list of roles with full descriptions
  • consider how you will manage the technology once the specialist team has built it

Choosing to buy technology

It might be better to buy all or part of your technology if:

  • there is a commercially available way to meet most of your user needs
  • suppliers can configure settings or features to meet your user needs
  • you do not need a high level of customisation or bespoke changes
  • the specialist expert knowledge and support you need is commercially available
  • your organisation has the capability to support any technology you buy

If suppliers can meet your user needs, you might benefit from more competitive and innovative commercial products and opportunities.

Decide whether off-the-shelf (OTS) products provide the right level of functionality and use them as they were intended. Even small modifications to OTS software can remove most of the benefits of using it. Consider configuring your software settings instead so there is still product support when suppliers release new versions.

Changes, customisations and workarounds can:

  • increase costs
  • affect how easy the product is to use across government
  • make maintenance harder
  • reduce the ability to scale and adapt the product for future use
  • restrict you from upgrading or removing them in future

If you’re buying a product, consider asking for a demonstration or trial on a smaller scale. During a product trial you should:

  • try to solve one small but hard problem to see how the product performs in those circumstances
  • test integrating the product with your current products
  • test the user experience of the product and whether it meets their requirements
  • make sure the product meets accessibility regulations
  • test the product with deployment tools to understand how it would fit in with your continuous integration/deployment pipeline

Define your commercial approach

Use common government sourcing routes to find appropriate services and suppliers and avoid lengthy and expensive procurement processes. Work with your departmental commercial team to understand which route is most appropriate.

Approved and official sourcing routes include:

When defining your organisation’s operating model you should:

  • decide if your organisation would benefit from using multiple suppliers or a single supplier
  • plan how you will manage multiple suppliers
  • understand which of your organisation’s existing technology you are using to underpin your purchase
  • consider what skills and capabilities your organisation needs to deliver and support the product or service you’ll purchase
  • complying with the Greening government ICT digital service strategy to reduce your organisation’s environmental impact
  • record any identified risks so you can either mitigate or accept them

When doing ongoing management of your organisation’s commercial contracts, you should:

  • routinely challenge your sourcing strategies to consider whether you can diversify and use small and medium-sized enterprises
  • have processes in place to check your supplier is meeting your expectations
  • make sure your commercial and technical teams continue to work together to determine the ongoing value and viability of any commercial contract

Follow government contractual rules and guidelines

Follow the digital and technology spend controls. Contracts must:

  • not be over £100 million in value – unless there’s an exceptional reason
  • be explicit about the ownership of government data, including data created through the operation of the service
  • be explicit about the ownership of intellectual property involved in the delivery of a technology service (including software code and the business rules that process information between user interfaces and stored data)

Contracts should:

  • where economic, include a break clause at a maximum of 2 years which allows you to terminate the contract with minimal exit costs
  • ensure competition from the widest possible range of suppliers using smaller contracts where they improve value
  • include usage-based billing models where appropriate and where this represents best social value for money
  • address the need for continuous improvement, maintaining market competitiveness and flexibility to meet changing requirements

Remember that:

  • you can use the CCS technology category framework agreements which have pre-defined terms and conditions

  • suppliers must not be both component providers and systems or services integrators within one system
  • you cannot automatically extend contracts unless there are extenuating circumstances
  • you should align contract duration to current best practices for the product or service in question

Next: Technology Code of Practice point 12 - Make your technology sustainable

Published 6 November 2017
Last updated 31 March 2021 + show all updates
  1. Addition of a temporary research survey to get user feedback on the Technology Code of Practice.

  2. There is no change in policy. Content rewritten for greater clarity.

  3. First published.