Get off my LAN: Fertile ground for application support vendors in £750m Defra tender

UK government farming department interested in the technology supply market's view of its strategy

The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is looking to have a cosy chat with application development and support companies as it prepares up to £750m in new contracts.

The central government unit concerned with farming, fishing and the environment is working on a strategy to support and develop its wide range of application software, particularly in its arm's length bodies.

"In preparing the Strategy Defra is interested in the supply markets view of its Strategy, what the market can offer," the department said in a tender notice.

The procurement could see suppliers awarded places on an eight-year framework agreement worth up to £750m. Defra said it was looking for the "provision of a holistic supply chain to provide capability and capacity to support the development of applications and Application Maintenance and Support services," the notices said.

Defra is looking for help maintaining and supporting around 200 applications from 1 June 2023. It is also looking for services for its application development pipeline and internal software development teams with a flexible resourcing model.

The Prior Information Notice, a sort of pre-procurement exercise, has been published to let suppliers know about a virtual briefing next week followed by individual briefings with interested suppliers between 21 and 25 February 2022.

Defra's Annual Report and Accounts 2020–21 [PDF] pointed out that the government's own auditors, the Group Chief Internal Auditor (GCIA), said its management of legacy IT systems was one of the "significant risks" the department needed to address.

"We have demonstrated resilience and adaptability in our changing landscape, carefully considering new and evolving risks such as cyber security and the urgency to replace legacy IT systems as technology enables much of our work and really impacts our customer experience," the report said.

The UK's departure from the EU has forced Defra's IT systems to adapt to the new trading arrangement and regulatory differences.

"Our investment has ensured that the department was prepared for all possible scenarios and included the development of new IT systems and associated supporting services to meet either the required initial operating capability or with contingency plans in place to minimise and mitigate impacts of EU exit on the public, business and economy in the event of a no-deal scenario," the annual report said.

Defra and the organisations under its remit require a broad range of applications, from the management of fisheries to environment and chemicals regulation, to animal and plant health.

The departments has struggled with big IT projects in the past. Its Rural Payments Agency struggled to support the introduction of the European Union's single payment scheme in England and failed to meet its own target to pay 96 per cent of the fund by the end of March 2006.

While the National Audit Office (NAO), a spending watchdog, found the department did not "fully appreciate the risks and complexities involved in implementing the English model of the single payment scheme," failures were also apparent in IT management.

"To keep to the timetable, the Agency implemented key aspects of the IT system without adequate assurance that every component was fully compatible with the rest of the system and supporting business processes," the NAO said.

Following a change of management, the Rural Payments Agency paid more than 95 per cent of the 2011 fund to 96 per cent of claimants by the first week of March 2012. ®

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