Selling to schools direct can be a challenge, but public sector frameworks offer IT providers a strong alternative revenue opportunity, says Rowena Thomas, head of education at ESPO…
Procurement frameworks enable schools and other public sector buyers to purchase anything from tablets and PCs to services like banking and facilities management.
A framework is an agreement with suppliers outlining the terms and conditions on which specific purchases can be made throughout its duration. It’s a legally-compliant route to market, giving purchasers access to goods and services from approved suppliers, who have undergone vetting to ensure they offer best quality and value.
Frameworks are run by Professional Buying Organisations (PBOs), whose role is to buy goods and services or create frameworks, enabling the public sector to save time, money and valuable staff resources. Because PBOs’ frameworks are accessed by a huge number of public sector bodies and offer a vast selection of products and procurement categories, they deliver economies of scale and lower prices for buyers.
Private companies accepted on a framework will not only access this huge market opportunity, they will also open the door to long-term revenues, because frameworks can be in place for anything up to four years. Providers have also made their frameworks simpler to help suppliers. There is less paperwork required when submitting a tender, and e-tendering portals providing automatic notification of opportunities for private sector suppliers. With SMEs in mind, suppliers only have to agree to meet certain standards such as insurance levels once they have been awarded a position on the framework, cutting down the administrative burden on smaller businesses.
PBOs also support their suppliers with technical advice and feedback on improvements for their future tendering activity. Some PBOs also run bidder days whereby interested suppliers can meet officers running the procurement and ask questions.
So why do schools use these frameworks? Well, if a school’s regular supplier can’t meet its needs, or they’re spending more than the limits set by the EU, the school needs to run a tender and EU and UK law requires the school to ensure a fair and transparent procurement process. When they use a framework, however, the school’s buyer doesn’t have to run their own tender – they can buy things as a quick ‘call off’ transaction – because the framework provides a pre-agreed EU-compliant way to do it.
Frameworks aren’t just for big IT companies. Supplier size is irrelevant since the PBO assesses all suppliers and ensures that they meet minimum standards before accepting them onto its framework.
Schools could be looking for safer ways to buy IT supplies in 2015 – and to tighten up EU compliance when they do.
Rowena Thomas is head of the education category at public sector purchasing organisation ESPO.