AI - how to navigate a brand-new marketplace

Maija Banks, Crown Commercial Service’s Category Manager - Artificial Intelligence and Automation, explains the long road to develop the UK’s first artificial intelligence public procurement framework

Across the public sector, organisations are exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) solutions can help them to embrace change and future-proof the way they work. AI can help the public sector to manage and use data better, and make public services more accessible. It can also support frontline service delivery, enabling staff to spend more time delivering services.

In the healthcare sector, AI is already being used to improve diagnoses, uncovering new insights into chronic illnesses through the analysis of DNA sequencing, and offering more practical help, such as in the field of medical image readers. As far back as August 2019, the NHS AI Lab was set up to accelerate the safe deployment of AI technology across the healthcare system.

With the use of AI in the delivery of public services only likely to grow in the coming years, Crown Commercial Service is supporting potential buyers of AI services to get informed about the potential of the new technology - and how to ensure your eventual solution is aligned with the best guidance and standards.

The Guidelines on AI Procurement
The government’s Guidelines for AI Procurement, published in June 2020, were developed by the Office for Artificial Intelligence in collaboration with the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Crown Commercial Service, Government Digital Service, and the Government Commercial Function.

The guidelines are intended to advise public sector buyers of AI solutions on the guiding principles of AI procurement. They focus mainly on machine learning as a subset of AI, and advise on strategy, decision making, data, benefits and risks, effective market engagement, routes to market, governance, lifecycle management, and the all-important question of ethics.

Throughout the guidelines, messages are repeated that should apply to all procurements - that you should start from a problem, rather than a solution, that it is the people of your organisation who will in the end be responsible for the success or otherwise of your eventual product or service, and that you must, where possible, plan for an end-to-end lifecycle.

The guidelines, it is hoped, will eventually drive the responsible adoption of AI across all sectors of the UK economy, with the public sector leading the way. That is crucial in a sector where standards and regulations are often playing catch up with technology.

The AI Marketplace
At the same time as the Guidelines on AI Procurement were being written, the project team were developing what would become Crown Commercial Service’s Artificial Intelligence Marketplace.
This procurement agreement (technically a Dynamic Purchasing System) is the UK government’s first attempt to design a framework for best practice in AI procurement in the public sector.

It gives buyers the opportunity to work with suppliers of AI solutions within the guidelines set out by the Government - requirements which will develop and grow as the technology does the same.

All suppliers on the agreement need to identify ethical considerations in relation to data limitations, fairness and bias. In line with the guidelines, they need to demonstrate how the skills, qualifications and diversity of teams developing and deploying AI have been considered, and ensure the outputs of the AI technology are transparent and explainable to a non-expert audience. They also need to be able to describe how data will be protected and set out the level of human decision-making at critical points.

And because the agreement is a Dynamic Purchasing System, new suppliers can join at any time during its duration, and existing suppliers can add new services, increasing opportunities for innovation.

Find out more
Crown Commercial Service’s team of experts is on hand to offer public sector buyers support and guidance along your journey to AI discovery. We understand that there is still a lot of uncertainty around AI, but we’re here to talk you through the process.

If you are new to AI you will be able to procure services through a discovery phase, to get an understanding of AI and how it can benefit your organisation. If you have experience in AI, you will be able to buy licensing, customisation and support directly from suppliers. If you would like both of these things, you will have access to end-to-end partnerships.

Crown Commercial Service supports the public sector to achieve maximum commercial value when procuring common goods and services. In 2019/20, CCS helped the public sector to achieve commercial benefits worth over £1bn - supporting world-class public services that offer best value for taxpayers.