Collaboration, Clarity and Communication – A route map for successful delivery with commercial partners

Written by Amanda Derrick OBE, Digital and Transformation Consultant

Public sector delivery is different: the delivery chain often involves alliances of public sector, commercial organisations and increasingly the third sector.  The core partners are usually pre-determined for example specific health trusts and councils need to work together to deliver social care within a geographical area and the commercial partners may also be fixed due to long term delivery partnerships set up between individual public and private sector organisations. Yet it is vital that these partnerships work effectively.  Difficulties in collaborative working are a contributory factor to many public sector project failures.

The Connect Digitally programme led 174 councils in England and Wales, 6 central government agencies and worked with over 40 commercial suppliers to successfully deliver resilient and sustainable digital services to millions of citizens.  Online school admissions, delivered across 152 councils included a shared service for the 33 London boroughs. Online free school meals, included a shared eligibility checking service for all 174 councils in England and Wales, enabling real-time data checking against HMRC, DWP and Home Office data.  Connect Digitally also provided tool kits for development of services online payments and cashless catering. Crucially the programme secured commercial partner endorsement without specifying software solutions.  This was achieved through collaboration, clarity and communication with both the commercial partners working directly within the programme and with the extended network of suppliers, who were the delivery partners for councils and central government agencies.


Connect Digitally’s governance structure included supplier representation so commercial organisations were involved from initiation and helped shape service delivery.  Suppliers providing shared leadership, specialist and technical support and assistance in key areas to the programme team, included Atkins Management Consultants’ Caroline Bimson, now Director of Education at Atkins, Paul Russell, lawyer and AmberLights’s User Experience team.  The expertise of these suppliers were critical in delivering success, supporting continuous improvement and developing a strong ‘can do attitude’.   Close and trusted collaboration with both internal and external suppliers led to:

  • Supplier innovation and product development
  • Resilient technical architecture enabling reuse
  • Frank and challenging conversations
  • An environment which enabled all partners to achieve greater value for money
  • Accelerated scale-up and solution transfer as suppliers supported councils in their user groups


Connect Digitally agreed objectives, functionality and outcomes with a representative group of suppliers and communicated these across the wide and diverse supplier population to ensure national transformation.

Connect Digitally provided:

  • Regular targeted communications
  • Opportunities for suppliers to innovate
  • Steps to Success Products
  • Independent usability evaluation of supplier products
  • Independent comparison of commercial partners’ products
  • Shared solutions between councils
  • Developer toolkits for new services

In summary where suppliers often work together in alliances or competition, transformation of public service delivery requires different ways of partnership working.  Digital leaders understand and utilise the enabling power of technology but without collaboration, clarity, and communication we are left only with clever technology but an unachieved vision.


Connect Digitally was open and transparent and developed a shared understanding to clarify required outcomes, outline challenges, realise benefits and importantly identify potential disbenefits.  Clarity for commercial suppliers was achieved through agreement on:

  • Minimum functional requirements
  • Relationships between services
  • Data standards enabling interoperability
  • Common issues and risks managed at national level
  • Common barriers addressed and overcome at national level
  • Local variances delivered by individual public/private sector delivery partnerships

Amanda was the Programme Director for Connect Digitally which successfully delivered 3 consecutive national programmes providing digital services to citizens.

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