Suppliers have been given six weeks to prepare their bids for a monster £4bn pan-government IT hardware and solutions framework.
The two-year framework is designed to save the taxpayer money by increasing the government's purchasing power on a modest number of pre-set PC, laptop, tablet, server and storage specifications.
Aimed at central government departments and their arm's length, non-departmental public bodies, NHS bodies and local authorities, the framework is divided into 12 lots, each of which will sign up between three and eight suppliers.
Bidders have until 19 March to submit their responses.
Michael Keegan, managing director of Fujitsu's technology solutions division (pictured below), welcomed the fact that the framework covers a broader range of technology and government bodies than predecessors did.
"This is part of a very sensible consolidation by the government of procurement of hardware and solutions, and will lead to better value for the taxpayer," he told ChannelWeb.
The new framework, which is being run by the new Government Procurement Services team, raises questions over the long-term future of the Commoditised IT Hardware and Software (CITHS) framework that is due to expire in August 2013.
However, Darren Hedley, public sector director at VAR Kelway, suggested the two frameworks can happily co-exist, given their differing aims.
"This is something we are looking at," he said.
"I don't think we will necessarily see a wholesale move from one to another [CITHS to the new hardware & solutions framework]. You can buy anything on CITHS, whereas this is far more specific and everything is fairly tightly specified. If a big department wants to roll out standardised PCs, I think they will gravitate towards this. If it's more generalist, they may use CITHS."
The new framework has an estimated value of £4bn over its two-year lifespan, although it could run for a maximum of four years. This compares with the £6bn valuation placed on CITHS when it was launched two years ago.
However, Paul Sweeney, managing director of Cisco, VMware and NetApp partner ANS, questioned whether volumes will live up to the government's expectations.
"The volumes we have seen through CITHS have not been as great as either the government or we expected," he said.
"When you get on them, people find ways around them, and there are so many frameworks that it dilutes their purpose. We will look at the new framework but are taking it with a pinch of salt."
Keegan also revealed Fujitsu has been involved in a pilot of the new framework's catalogue and said his firm will be bidding.
"We are convinced this is a very serious attempt to consolidate public sector purchasing and one that has very strong sponsorship from the top of government in the Cabinet Office and the Efficiency and Reform Group," he said.
Jamie Burke, public sector solutions director at Softcat, said: "Given Softcat's investment in the public sector, this is a framework that is on our radar and is absolutely one for which we will be bidding."
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