Education and Skills Funding Agency (DfE)

Data Science services – DevOps

31 Incomplete applications

23 SME, 8 large

7 Completed applications

7 SME, 0 large

Important dates

Monday 29 June 2020
Deadline for asking questions
Monday 6 July 2020 at 11:59pm GMT
Closing date for applications
Monday 13 July 2020 at 11:59pm GMT


Summary of the work
DevOps and Architecture services to increase ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving products at a faster pace than using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. This means the DfE can better serve its customers, meet the demand for building GDS compliant services and new requirements.
Latest start date
Tuesday 1 September 2020
Expected contract length
18 months
West Midlands
Organisation the work is for
Education and Skills Funding Agency (DfE)
Budget range
The budget could range up to a maximum of £4.2m consisting of multiple Statements of Work, but that scope could expand or contract. DfE does not commit to any minimum spend at this point. A pricing template will be given at the proposal stage to those suppliers we shortlist.

About the work

Why the work is being done
The Education and Skills Funding Agency (DfE) are undertaking the Further Education Sector Reform Programme. Part of this review will be looking at the future system and business needs of the Department. Submit Learner Data (SLD), Further Education Data Improvement (FEDI), Online Forms Services and Further Education Workforce Collection (FEWC) are Government Digital Service (GDS) platforms that underpin the Department's needs for high quality business data and support the current COVID-19 crisis. These services have simplified the collection of data, reduced operational overhead on post-16 providers, are more intuitive and support integration with other government services. The services align with Cabinet Office expectations for a user centric data collection service. We expect to be supporting academy finance reporting division (AFRD), ESFA PMO and Funding teams over the next 2 years, along with closer working with the DfE Data group. We will continue to progress DfE's plans to build holistic data collection services looking to exploit cloud services and automate data collections in order to reduce sector burden and provider costs on MIS services. We expect the need for Dev Ops and Architecture development work to continue.
Problem to be solved
These existing, and any new, services needed as part of the Further Education Sector Transformational Programme are the life blood of the Agency. As the organisation moves forward there will be a strong need to support the existing BAU services and any new ones falling out of the Transformation Programme. For example, there may well be a need for the business to actively support a new range of stakeholders and users in the delivery of T Levels. An initial discovery for a T Level Service identified potential service areas and user touchpoints. We have identified three priority service areas for the T Level Service in the first instance: Marketing and Communications; matching providers and employers to facilitate industry placements for students; and issuing results and certification.
There is also a strong possibility we could see significant extra demand placed on the Agency as Central Government devolves data collections to Combined Mayorly Authorities and other similar authorities.
COVID 19 has placed extra pressure on existing platforms and applications. There is a strong likely hood there will be a need to continue to support these initiatives and demand is likely to be high for new and additional collections.
Who the users are and what they need to do
Our users are external and internal, for example: As a provider I need to submit data so that I can be paid accurately and in a timely manner and as the ESFA I need access to accurate and timely data so we can pay providers, produce national statistics and carry out audits.
Early market engagement
Any work that’s already been done
Submit Learner Data is in Public Beta and is preparing for the transition to a Live service.
Existing team
The existing teams are comprised of multi-disciplinary agile delivery skills. These teams are involved in service development for providing brand new digital services, going through the standard GDS phases. Typical team size is up to 15 with a skills mix such as product/service managers, delivery managers, business analysts, user research and design professionals. Teams are made up of managed service suppliers, supported by a small number of permanent staff
Current phase
Not applicable

Work setup

Address where the work will take place
Primary location will be ESFA Cheylesmore House, Coventry. Some work will be done from home. Occasional travel to DfE/ESFA site in London may be required.
Working arrangements
This will be a 5 day per week (Monday to Friday) commitment and detailed working arrangements, including team location, size and make-up, will be contained within each statement of work. Day to day delivery will be governed by standard agile delivery techniques. These could be either a Kanban or a scrum approach (depending on the work) but the standard agile ceremonies appropriate to those will be undertaken. These will be monitored by the Delivery Manager and the Product Owner will be responsible for prioritising backlogs in refinement sessions.
Security clearance
Personnel from the Service provider need to have a BPSS check.

Additional information

Additional terms and conditions
Expenses must be pre-agreed and comply with DfE Travel and Subsistence Policy. Any expenses shall be submitted in line with DfE standard T&S policy. Primary work location stated in Statement of Work will not attract expenses. No parking is available on site.

Skills and experience

Buyers will use the essential and nice-to-have skills and experience to help them evaluate suppliers’ technical competence.

Essential skills and experience
  • Within the last two years have experience in Dev Ops and delivery of digital products/services to a highly regulated standard
  • Within the last two years have experience in delivery management and project support services such as agile, scrum standards
  • Within the last two years have demonstrable experience in working in multi-team agile delivery programmes
  • Proven experience of using a range of agile and lean practices, tools and techniques, working in multi-team agile programmes
  • Strong verbal, written and visual communication skills with the ability to proactively manage stakeholders and tailor to the needs of audience by collaborating on decisions
  • Experience of being able to challenge and influence decisions
  • Within the last two years experience in architecture services and ensuring new and updated platforms, products, transactions and system architectures are robust, scalable, open and secure
  • Within the last two years experience in scalable server-side cloud-based web applications (preferably Microsoft Azure) detailed knowledge of the C#,.NET,ASP.NET MVC programming languages
  • Within the last two years experience in building front-end web applications (HTML/CSS/JS)
  • Understanding of DevOps services including running production applications and optimising existing applications
Nice-to-have skills and experience
Experience of passing service assessments within a highly regulated market e.g. GDS, Experience of Microsoft product suite

How suppliers will be evaluated

All suppliers will be asked to provide a written proposal.

How many suppliers to evaluate
Proposal criteria
  • Demonstrate working experience in delivering digital products/services and understanding the challenges of implementing user centred design in an agile environment
  • Demonstrate understanding to deliver digital products/services to Government digital service standards
  • Experience and methodology in approach to agile project using both Kanban and scrum
  • Demonstrable experience of working alongside clients in co-located, integrated teams
  • Demonstrate approach to knowledge and skills transfer
  • Technical competence in a wide range of relevant technologies and agile practices
  • Ability to scale up team and flex resource when needed on-site
  • Value for money
Cultural fit criteria
  • Innovate – Act on initiative, drive improvements, balance risks
  • Build capability – Encourage learning, share knowledge, address capability gaps, act on feedback
  • Focus on delivery – Focus on goals, set stretching targets, take responsibility for delivery
  • Work as a team – Collaborate, establish good working relationships, generate team spirit
Payment approach
Capped time and materials
Additional assessment methods
Evaluation weighting

Technical competence


Cultural fit




Questions asked by suppliers

1. Who’s in the incumbent and how long they have been the incumbent?
This is a new procurement so there is no incumbent supplier.
2. Who is on the panel?
Applications will be scored by a panel of 3 individuals who work for the Department for Education, with both appropriate technical knowledge and an in-depth knowledge of the requirements.
3. Are there current incumbents in post, as this is at Beta phase? If yes, are ESFA currently satisfied with the services that are being provided by the current incumbents?
This is a new procurement so there is no incumbent supplier.
4. Can you please confirm that the evaluation wighting on price is meant to be 60%?
The weighting on price in the evaluation will be 60%.
5. Please can the Authority confirm if this engagement is considered to be inside or outside of IR35?
This is a fully outsourced managed service which falls outside of IR35.
6. Are DfE seeking outcomes based around whole project teams or the DevOps and Architecture disciplines only?
Outcomes will be DevOps and Architecture disciplines only.
7. Can you kindly confirm that the price is 60%?
The weighting on price in the evaluation will be 60%.
8. With regard to the Nice to Have criterion: "Experience of passing service assessments within a highly regulated market e.g. GDS, Experience of Microsoft product suite", please can the Authority confirm if this is two distinct requirements i.e. (1) Experience of passing service assessments and (2) Experience of the Microsoft Product Suite or, if this is not the case, please could the Authority clarify the significance of "Microsoft product suite" in this question?
This is two distinct requirements, experience of GDS Assessments, the reference to "Microsoft product suite" is for example PaaS, SaaS, VSTS and Continuous integration.
9. Can the delivery team be nearshore (for example, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria) with travel to location as and when required, along with key individuals who are located in the UK?
No - The primary location will be ESFA Cheylesmore House, Coventry. This is not currently an option ESFA will consider.
10. Can you offer some guidance as to why the weighting on price is set at 60%?
The DOS4 Framework offers the opportunity to assess a range of capable suppliers over a robust 2 stage process. As a government department we have to ensure that VfM is a key consideration when suppliers are tendering for opportunities. Technical capabilities will still be vigorously assessed, through the use of the DOS4 scoring process.
11. We note the Primary location for this work will be ESFA Cheylesmore House, Coventry with some work from home. Can the Authority give us their view of how this might be impacted by Covid-19, eg employing a flexible or remote working model?
We currently have all staff working remotely, once we are able to reopen offices we will have a flexible working model and we expect this to include some working within the stated location and some working from home.
12. Please can you confirm if the last requirement, in the Nice to Have is correct please? It currently reads “Experience of passing service assessments within a highly regulated market e.g. GDS, Experience of Microsoft product suite”. Should this be two separate requirements of “Experience of passing service assessments within a highly regulated market e.g. GDS” and then a separate point of “Experience of Microsoft product suite”? Or are you asking us to demonstrate passing a GDS service assessment with a service based on a Microsoft product suite?
This is two distinct requirements, experience of GDS Assessments, the reference to "Microsoft product suite" is for example PaaS, SaaS, VSTS and Continuous integration.
13. Are the existing BAU services expected to interact with the new digital services or are they legacy services that would ultimately be superseded/decommissioned by new services?
There are some BAU services which are legacy and which will be decommissioned / replaced with new services. There are other BAU services which will continue to need supporting.
14. Could you please provide any further details of the types of existing BAU services, existing tools and technologies that are part of the current transformation programme?
BAU Services: Data collection, data processing, online forms, Tools/technologies: Service Fabric, Azure, SQL, VSTS, Azure Service Bus, Web Services, Web Apps
15. Are there any specific Microsoft products and services used (e.g. Sharepoint, or similar?)
Sharepoint, Azure, Dynamics
16. Could the Authority please confirm the different roles required for this engagement?
Solution Architects, Technical Architects, Data Architects, DevOps Engineer, Database administrator
17. What are the various development technology stacks (frontend/middleware/backend/PaaS etc.) for which DfE needs the DevOps and Architecture services? Are there any 3rd party (SaaS) integrations?
Microsoft Azure (Service Fabric, Service Bus, Azure SQL, Storage, KeyVault, WebApps, WebJobs, Functions), Microsoft ASP MVC & API, Visual Studio, Powershell. As part of our reference data retrieval process we may connect to external web-services.
18. Is the application design strategy on-premise, or Cloud or container based? Can you please elaborate on the same?
Design strategy is Azure cloud based with preference on SaaS, followed by PaaS (if SaaS not available). We don’t want any IaaS services if possible, as we want to reduce maintenance effort and costs.
19. Are there any existing investment in DevOps toolset that need to be leveraged – E.g. Jenkins, GitHub etc? Is there a preference of toolset from an organisation standpoint? Or is this a design from scratch?
Microsoft Azure Devops (VSTS) is the platform that we use for source control (git), issue tracking, stories, building and releasing. Our source code is replicated into github for public consumption. Powershell may occasionally support these processes.
20. How mature is the current development team in Agile ways of working?
Agile development is very mature and has been in use for the last 3 years.
21. Are there any hosting requirements for the DevOps toolset that the vendor is expected to provide?
No, hosting requirements is dealt with internally
22. Do you have ambitions to roll out a data lake of technology?
No, not currently
23. What are the ambitions for utilising the platform through the application of DS techniques?
Data Science techniques already exist within the Agency and are mature and well used.
24. What is your biggest priority driver/problem is that you are trying to solve with this transformation?
Meeting the digital needs for the Agency for the next 2 - 4 years.
25. What is your ambition / vision is once you have much of this data consolidated?
This will be addressed by current in-house Data Science services
26. Will expenses be paid for staff required to work in Coventry?
27. What is the timeline for the procurement process?
Whilst we are working towards having a fixed timeframe in which to complete this procurement, there may be a need to be flexible within these dates. Currently our indicative timeline is:
Review and shortlist initial submissions by 20th July
Review and evaluate supplier proposals and presentation by 10th August
Contract completion by 1st September
28. What is the stakeholder landscape (external/internal/both)?
29. What is the technology stack currently being used for communication with stakeholders (e.g. Visualiation / Collaboration Tools)?
Standard communication channels (websites, blogs, vlogs email distribution), Show & Tells, User Groups (internal & external), GDS User Research and Sector Conferences.
30. What forums/governance bodies are in place?
Financial and Commercial Assurance Boards are in place.
31. Is there a formal governance structure in place outlining decision making?
Financial and Commercial Assurance Boards are in place.
32. Are additional programming languages considered for the development?
33. Can you please clarify the scope of digital services / products, does this include design and development of new business applications?
New business applications are unlikely, this procurement is mainly addressing feeding and watering legacy systems. There may well be some "blue sky" thinking needed with regard to future directions of travel.
34. What is the scope in regards to running the production application, is the agency expecting delivery of managed application services?
We have mixed teams of Civil Servants and contingent works from 3rd Party suppliers. There is no expectation for a managed service for individual applications.
35. How many applications are in-scope?
Circa 10 applications are in scope
36. What is the user base?
2300 Colleges and Interdependent Training Providers
37. What are the key deliverables for this project?
Maintaining and supporting existing applications.
38. Do existing third party contracts with ongoing suppliers support Agile working, for example in terms of downtime, outage slots and the ability to make changes as and when required?
Yes, we have a fully compliant Agile delivery capability.
39. What other third parties, if any, are you working with at the moment, and which are likely to come up in this project?
We have a mixed economy of suppliers working on various deliveries and supporting existing applications. We uphold a "one team" approach and we expect our suppliers to work together to meet the business aspirations of the Agency.
40. Are there any preferences being given to the vendors who are able to provide the required support earlier than other vendors?
41. Is the solution expected to be multi-cloud or just Azure?
We are fully Azure
Are additional programming languages considered for the development?
** Following internal conversations, this answer has been updated. The answer is now 'Angular'.
The deadline for asking questions about this opportunity was Monday 6 July 2020.