The government appears to have bought itself a little more time to get its commodity IT procurement house in order as the £6bn CITHS framework has been approved to extend until October, CRN understands.
The deal reaches its EU-mandated limit of four years in exactly one month's time, and concern has been slowly growing among suppliers over the last six months as replacement vehicles remain some way off being implemented. The biggest cause for consternation is that such a large overarching framework concludes just as the public sector enters its busiest buying period: the last month of its fiscal year.
Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that the Cabinet Office would likely seek approval for an exceptional extension, and industry chatter indicates that CITHS (Commoditised IT Hardware and Software) has been given the green light to be stretched out for eight further months. CRN understands that contracts are expected to land on supplier doormats later this week.
The approval for an extension of CITHS comes after the £1bn Software Application Solutions framework was also extended - for a period of nine months - having reached the conclusion of its four-year term in December. The Cabinet Office claimed that extension would help "ensure continuity of service" as it continues to work on putting in place a trio of new big-ticket commodity IT procurement vehicles: Transactional IT Procurement Solution (TIPS); IT Products, Associated Services and Solutions (IT PASS); and Software Solutions.
But one onlooker, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed the extensions paper over the cracks of some much deeper-seated problems that the recently formed Crown Commercial Service (CCS) needs to address.
"An extension to CITHS is a sticking plaster to treat symptoms of organisational paralysis across CCS and the Cabinet Office," said the source. "The uncertainty around CITHS and six months of delays around the new framework procurement threatens to put incumbents' pipelines in jeopardy, with customers panicking to clear their FY budget, and new framework bidders frustrated at their opportunity being postponed once again. We just hope that the new leaders at CCS get their house in order - but we've been here before."
IT PASS interested parties
CITHS came into effect at the start of March 2010, following a bidding and awarding process that took a little more than seven months. The £6bn contract reached the end of its initial three-and-a-half-year term at the start of September, at which point the Cabinet Office took up the option of a six-month extension to take it to its 48-month limit.
News of the deal being given a further stay of execution will doubtless by welcomed by public sector procurement chiefs who would otherwise have faced the prospect of having no contract through which to make necessary investments in IT from the start of March onwards. Perhaps less pleased will be those suppliers not among the 19 featured on CITHS, who may have hoped that requirements would be forced onto the open market until such time as replacement vehicles are secured in place.
A market engagement exercise has been conducted over the last month, and the deadline for potential suppliers to respond to the government's requests for information (RFI) has now passed for all three of the incoming commodity IT frameworks. Information on the Crown Commercial Service website reveals that a total of 85 suppliers have expressed an interest in IT PASS. A host of familiar reseller names feature, as do vendors including Microsoft, Dell, IBM, HP, and Fujitsu, and a selection of big systems integrators.
CRN had contacted the Cabinet Office for comment and was awaiting response at time of going to press.
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