The government's Commoditised IT Hardware and Software (CITHS) framework has been extended for another six months amid concerns that its successor, IT Hardware and Solutions (ITHS), has failed to get off the ground.
Government Procurement Service (GPS) emailed suppliers on Monday informing them of its intent to extend CITHS to 28 February 2014, meaning it will now run for its maximum permissible period of four years.
Although suppliers were asked to sign an Agreement Change Note to ensure their contracts run past 28 August , GPS' website has already been updated with the new expiration date.
Sources believe the decision was prompted by the need to ensure public sector buyers have an alternative to the poorly received ITHS while the government concocts a new and improved pan-government IT framework that will go live early next year.
Earlier this year, suppliers told us that ITHS had got off to a sluggish start, with one complaining that invitations to quotes had been outnumbered 20 to one by those for CITHS over its first six months in action.
ITHS runs until 5 July 2014 with the option to extend for another two years. One source said ITHS will be ditched next year and subsumed into the new framework currently in planning stage if business volumes do not pick up over the coming months.
"GPS wants as much spend going through as few frameworks as possible, so if there is an opportunity to close ITHS, they will take it," he said.
Views on where ITHS went wrong differ. Some say public sector buyers were reluctant to move across from CITHS to a framework lacking software provision, while others say the framework was rushed out and too focused on building volume around a small number of SKUs.
"Public sector buyers do not like to be told what to buy," said one. "The assumption is that in order to drive better value, you standardise across the public sector but the reality is they have individual requirements – or like to think they do.
"GPS is putting far more investment into the new framework to see exactly what their requirements are."
Yet others pointed to the lack of big OEMs involved in ITHS as a stumbling block.
The announcement was welcomed by everyone we contacted, including those with stakes in both CITHS and ITHS.
Darren Headly, public sector sales director at Kelway, said he saw it as a "positive step", arguing that CITHS is still delivering value to public sector customers. He added that the move would support GPS in its quest to put a new vehicle in place.
Jamie Burke, public sector sales director at Softcat – another VAR listed on both frameworks – agreed: "Given the universal success of the CITHS framework since 2010 in comparison to the slow adoption of ITHS since 2012, such a decision makes perfect sense. It is great to see GPS adopt an inclusive approach, listening to feedback from both public sector customers and their supplier community."
Neil Kerry, GPS framework manager at European Electronique, an education-focused VAR which is on CITHS but not ITHS, also viewed the extension as a "very positive move".
"It will enable us to continue to deliver the very best value to the public sector through the framework of choice for many of our clients," he said. "We are now looking forward to responding to the new tender which will be issued later this year and it will replace a number of existing frameworks."
GPS is apparently in the process of designing the new framework, partly based on feedback garnered from suppliers, public sector clients and SMBs at workshops in January. It is likely there will be a drive to include both more large OEMs and SMBs, to ensure it complies with wider government policy.
It is as yet unclear whether or not Sprint ii - a competitor framework aimed at police forces looking to procure volume hardware - will also be collapsed into the new framework upon its expiration on 15 March 2014.
"It depends on what the new framework looks like – if it's something the Home Office and police are happy to use, I guess they will move to that," was one source's response.
Launched in March 2010 by GPS predecessor Buying Solutions, CITHS features 21 suppliers across three Lots encompassing hardware, software and infrastructure, with a potential value of £6bn.
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