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UK Home Office revises purchasing strategy for Emergency Services Network devices

Second Prior Information Notice reveals HO is now opting for a ‘dynamic purchasing system’ for the £30-£150m procurement of devices, accessories and services for the UK emergency services

UK Home Office revises purchasing strategy for Emergency Services Network devices

The Home Office has revised the way it intends to procure devices, accessories and services for use by fire, police and ambulance personnel on the new Emergency Services Network (ESN). The HO published a second Prior Information Notice (PIN) on 17 August 2016 announcing that it is changing its approach by moving to a ‘Dynamic Purchasing System’ (DPS).

The contract, worth anything from £30m to £150m, was due to take the form of a ‘supplier framework agreement’ outlined in the original PIN published in March 2016.

However, the HO stated in the new PIN that: ‘Market engagement and evolution of the ESN programme since the publication of the notice to the market in March 2016 has led to a re-assessment of the potential procurement options for ESN devices. We now wish to share our findings with the market by way of this revised Prior Information Notice, including related material such as draft user requirements that reflect our latest thinking in respect of the potential procurement approaches for ESN devices.’

The contract covers the supply of a range of devices to be procured for use on the 4G ESN network provided by UK mobile operator EE, with user services provided by Motorola Solutions. ESN will replace the existing TETRA two-way radio network operated by Airwave (now owned by Motorola Solutions).

Motorola is responsible for approving devices under the User Device Type Approval Specification (UDTAS), while EE is responsible for the Network Approval Testing Service (NATS) certification.

More information will be available to suppliers at the next ESN Devices and Applications Forum (EDAF) on 13 September 2016. The HO and its ESMCP (Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme) team, which runs the ESN procurement, are also looking to take market sounding meetings with suppliers which have not yet engaged with the ESN programme.

The Dynamic Purchasing System is designed to allow suppliers to bid for and supply ESN ‘Approved’ (meaning they have been tested to ensure they are capable of carrying out the public safety communication services and do not adversely affect the ESN and/or the Airwave network) devices, accessories and services. Categories include:

• Handheld devices – standard, ruggedised, single and dual mode LTE/TETRA devices
• Specialist – direct device to device communications
• Active accessories – cases and device carriage on clothing
• Potentially vehicles devices – vehicle (4+wheels) ESN modems, devices and gateway vehicles; vehicles (2 wheels) ESN devices and waterborne ESN devices
• Vehicle accessories
• Potentially vehicle installation design and implementation
• Potentially managed services
• Unified – any combination of the other categories.

There is a requirement for 1,500 production standard trials devices of various types for operational trials and pilots starting in mid-2017. These trial devices will be procured incrementally, using the DPS.

The HO expects the three emergency services will require circa. 300,000 ‘production standard devices’ with the first procurement starting in the second quarter of 2017, prior to the start of the first regional transition, the North West region, in September 2017.

12 regions will transition in a staggered manner with each taking up to 12 months to complete. The transition period is expected to last up to 27 months in total and should be completed by 31 December 2019.

What is a Dynamic Purchasing System?
The Government describes a DPS as a procurement tool similar to a framework agreement run as a completely electronic process with the key difference that new suppliers can join at any time during the lifetime of the DPS, so long as they meet the selection criteria. If they do, they cannot be excluded from the DPS and contracting authorities are not allowed to impose any limit on the number of suppliers on the DPS.

The authority then invites qualifying suppliers to bid for specific contracts on the DPS (or relevant category within the DPS). The benefit of this procurement approach is that suppliers can join it at any time and are not locked out for the duration unlike traditional frameworks.

The DPS has also undergone a number of rule changes to make it more useable and useful, the Government believes. Firstly, suppliers no longer have to submit an ‘indicative tender’ with their request to join the DPS.

Secondly, the old obligation for authorities to publish a further simplified advertisement in the OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) each time they wish to award a contract under a DPS no longer applies. Finally, the default four-year limit on the duration of a DPS has been removed.

Employing a DPS clearly has great advantages for ESN, especially as the form factor for hand portable devices has still not been decided. Devices and form factors may also evolve and change considerably during the life of the contract, so having a DPS arrangement means new suppliers with new ideas are not locked out of ESN contracts.

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