Dhar Grewal, Assistant Director, Procurement and Estates, at the NMC, talks about how working with TLA helped them to ensure that NMC got the best contract for their second generation ICT outsourcing.
The Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) was preparing to outsource the hosting and management of its core ICT infrastructure for the second time after an initial deal with a large international outsourcer had ended badly in 2002.
As the UK’s nursing and midwifery regulator for over 660,000 registered nurses and midwives, the effective operation of NMC’s core IT infrastructure is critical to its business. However, as is too often the case in major outsourcing agreements, the earlier contract had failed to address some critical elements of the service. “There wasn’t sufficient vigour around the contractual arrangements, which led to poor service delivery. There was a lack of clarity over what the services were, how they were to be provided and the SLAs around that – and just as importantly for me, any penalties around non-performance,” says Dhar Grewal, NMC’s Assistant Director, Procurement and Estates.
As a result there was a long dispute around the support of a core part of the NMC register which was only settled after a period of negotiation.
While the scale of that dispute was not headline-grabbing, there have been a number of other high-profile IT projects in the public sector that have gone expensively wrong. Grewal believes that one of the key reasons is a disparity between the expertise of the public and private sector negotiating teams.
“Having decent legal advice on the client side does a lot to redress that balance: it means that the parties are negotiating on a more level playing field in terms of knowledge and experience.
A lot of these big public sector contracts failed because there was not that rigour, that robustness, in the contract negotiations, challenging the suppliers and the IT industry’s status quo.”
The NMC uses a large City firm for most of its legal needs, but when Ingham came on board he suggested Technology Law Alliance (TLA) director Jeremy Newton. The firm is on the Legal Services Framework operated by government agency OGC Buying Solutions, which all public sector organisations can turn to for their legal needs knowing that quality assurance and value for money have all been thoroughly vetted in advance.
“It’s a people skill we’re buying here and the most important thing to us is to make sure that the person is someone we can engage with,” says Grewal. “There are lots of qualified lawyers out there but many of them lack the commercial acumen we insist on for any professional advice we get, or have the experience we needed for the ICT infrastructure deal.”
A fully-compliant tender process under the EU Procurement Directives was won by Business Systems Group (BSG), which then had to hammer out the details of the £5.2m five-year deal with the NMC. The contract involved the outsourcing of NMC’s core IT infrastructure across two different data centres, including the managing and hosting of NMC’s servers and networks, disaster recovery, systems monitoring, technical design and ongoing consultation.
“One of the key things that Jeremy brings to the table is his commercial awareness and his pragmatic approach to negotiations,” notes Grewal.Apart from advising on pure “legal” issues such as warranties, liability and intellectual property matters, TLA helped the parties to structure and articulate critical technical and commercial aspects of the documentation, including the service descriptions, service level agreements, charging arrangements and governance procedures.
“Jeremy facilitated a constructive way forward,” says Ingham, “working in our interests to get the contract completed to our satisfaction as quickly as possible.”
The new contract is very clear on what the service is, and on the key performance indicators and parameters that BSG has to meet. The relationship is detailed in the contract so that if the ICT team has any issues at all with the service, they can rely on it to illustrate exactly what was agreed.
We are in a more comfortable place than we ever were with the previous outsourcing contract. When it came to the NMC’s next deal, a software implementation deal, Grewal and Ingham had no hesitation in calling TLA. It was a no-brainer.