Awarded to Certes Computing Limited

Start date: Wednesday 6 January 2021
Value: £3,000,000
Company size: SME
Education and Skills Funding Agency (DfE)

Apprenticeships Digital Development, Testing and Architecture

8 Incomplete applications

6 SME, 2 large

29 Completed applications

20 SME, 9 large

Important dates

Friday 2 October 2020
Deadline for asking questions
Friday 9 October 2020 at 11:59pm GMT
Closing date for applications
Friday 16 October 2020 at 11:59pm GMT


Summary of the work
We require agile digital development, testing and architecture services to support development of GDS compliant digital services users to support the continued development and live running of the service.

We will require a handover from incumbant suppliers with a need for knowledge transfer to permanent staff within ESFA.
Latest start date
Wednesday 6 January 2021
Expected contract length
2 years
West Midlands
Organisation the work is for
Education and Skills Funding Agency (DfE)
Budget range
These capability services are to be delivered over a contract period of 2 years with an indicative contract value of approximately £3m for the full 2-year service delivery.

About the work

Why the work is being done
The Government has committed to increasing the quality and quantity of apprenticeships in England.

To support the delivery of this ambition we will continue to ensure our services are scalable, cloud-based and meet Government Digital Service standards; so that they meet user needs and ensure a great apprenticeship experience.
Problem to be solved
Ensuring the needs of users in the apprenticeship market place are met so that the quality and quantity of successful apprenticeships continues to increase.

Outcomes delivered through building and live running of existing services, with new features and capabilities to be added in line with programme objectives.

Significant user volumes interact with the services (millions of citizens, over 100,000 employers etc).
Who the users are and what they need to do
Our users are both external (employers, training providers, end-point assessment organisations and apprentices) and government, for example:

As a student I need to easily access impartial information to understand and access apprenticeships, and to receive timely information on how I progress with my apprenticeship.

As a non-levy employer I need to understand the funding for hiring an apprentice, find and recruit the right apprentice.

As a training provider I need to understand how I receive funding for apprenticeships from government.

As an end-point assessment organisation I need to understand the registration process for operating in the marketplace.

As ESFA I need to oversee effective delivery of Apprenticeships, including sharing information with stakeholders, directly managing the issue of certificates.
Early market engagement
Any work that’s already been done
Minimum viable service was introduced in 2017 developing significant capability towards all employers taking greater control of apprenticeship funding, improving quality, and building great end-to-end experience.

Capabilities are connected through personalised outcomes: AI-based, real-time data-model.


10 services divided into domain-centric services supporting agile delivery, enabling rapid development, iteration, deployment.

Digital Services with Portal outer-shell.

Major areas implemented as autonomous domain services with microsite.
Common patterns employed cross-services.

Domain services with uniform interfaces (WebUI, Events, API) independently deployable, with low cycles times (ship quickly, confidently.)

Common integration approaches between domain services facilitates communication (nServiceBus events/REST APIs.)

Overarching Logical Data Models.
Existing team
Our build-test-run delivery model is underpinned by an agile at scale build capability.

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 10 with a skills mix such as product/service managers, delivery managers, business analysts, user research and design professionals, developers and testers.

Solutions and Technical architects support delivery through setting strategic technology direction and supporting build team decision making.

Teams are co-located in Coventry and comprise of digital service suppliers and permanent staff.
Current phase

Work setup

Address where the work will take place
Primary location will be ESFA Cheylesmore House, Coventry.

Occasional travel to the DfE/ESFA site in London along with travel across England for user research 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
Enhanced DBS and BPSS checks required

Additional information

Additional terms and conditions
Expenses must be pre-agreed and comply with DfE Travel and Subsistence (T&S) Policy. Any expenses shall be submitted in line with DfE standard T&S policy.

Primary work location stated in SoW 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
  • Evidence of experience within the last two years of successful delivery of scalable cloud-based web applications (preferably Microsoft Azure).
  • Evidence within the last two years of notable experience architecting large-scale software systems which are robust, scalable, open and secure
  • Detailed knowledge of a number of programming languages and building successful front-end web applications.
  • Evidence of successful digital development using distributed version control systems such as Git with programming languages including: * C# * MVC / Razor* HTML / JavaScript / CSS
  • Successfully evidence experience in making the right technology choices - using appropriate tools and technologies to deliver user needs operating a great service in a cost-effective way future-proofing technology choices
  • Demonstrate and evidence expertise developing software using modern engineering practices such as Test Driven Development and Continuous Integration & Deploment in an Azure DevOps environment
  • Demonstrable experience delivering a high quality code base that meets user needs/maintains appropriate security protocols. Writing code in open from start, and publishing it in an open repository (GitHub)
  • Proven demonstrable experience in all aspects of testing including manual and automation. Production of clear/concise test documentation:Test plans; Test scripts; Test reports; Defect logs; executing test scripts and raise defects.
  • Evidence of demonstrable experience within the last two years in working on complex, multi-stakeholder programmes (both internal and external)
  • Proven and comprehensive experience of supporting customers to build in-house capabilities and ensure effective knowledge management and transfer
Nice-to-have skills and experience
  • Experience of delivering services similar to our existing architecture (set out in work already done)
  • Experience of building software applications that are aligned to UK Government Design Principles and Service Standards
  • Commitment to develop Buyer's permanent staff

How suppliers will be evaluated

All suppliers will be asked to provide a written proposal.

How many suppliers to evaluate
Proposal criteria
  • Technical competence in the identified technologies and practices (essential criteria)
  • Demonstrate approach to knowledge and skills transfer to enable the transition of service delivery to ESFA
  • Ability to promptly mobilise expertise to scale up team and flex resource when needed and to respond to fluctuating requirements
  • Able to provide a service that has the capability to deliver outcomes on time to a high standard and recognise where approach needs to be adapted when not working
  • Demonstrate understanding/ability to successfully deliver digital products/services that are aligned to UK Government Design Principles and Service Standards or equivalent standards
  • Ability to drive innovation to transform services into modern customer centric solutions
  • Ability to translate business problems and user needs into technical designs
  • Evidence of maintaining at pace a detailed understanding of technical and business solutions to allow on-going support and further development
  • Technical competence in the identified technologies (essential criteria) and agile practices
Cultural fit criteria
  • Demonstrate how you as a supplier have successfully adhered to a buyers’ code of practice or adopted their organisational behaviours to ensure cultural fit
  • Demonstrate successfully operating a no-blame culture, encouraging people to learn from their mistakes
  • Evidence how you actively promote diversity and inclusion
  • Participate in community of practice and demonstrate knowledge sharing
  • Working with different suppliers and buyers staff in a collaborative way to deliver common goals
Payment approach
Capped time and materials
Additional assessment methods
Evaluation weighting

Technical competence


Cultural fit




Questions asked by suppliers

1. Is there a current incumbent?
This is a new procurement so there is no incumbent supplier.
2. How does this relate to previous bids 12248 and 12285, and who won these pieces of work?
This procurement is not linked to any previous procurement activity. This is a new requirement.

The adverts for 12248 and 12285 will be updated in due course.
3. Are you considering subject matter experts for part of the proposal and multiple suppliers to help increase the level of quality being delivered to the DfE? Or are you only considering single supplier applications for the entire delivery?
This contract will be awarded to a single supplier/consortium.
4. Please can you provide more information on the primary technologies already deployed in the MVP and the overall technology strategy moving forward?
Primary Technologies are set out within the essential criteria (e.g. Microsoft Azure technologies including Azure Service Bus, Service Fabric and ComosDB).

Technology strategy is aligned to GDS code of practice
5. Which roles does this opportunity cover please?
The make-up of teams will be at the discretion of the successful supplier to deliver against agreed outcomes. Here is a link to a description of the typical roles we would expect to see:
6. Are there any maximum day rate caps to the roles?
No. The maximum day rates will be those submitted by the bidder and provided within the rate card as part of the proposal.
7. To what extent will the authority allow suppliers to work remotely, both during the current and ongoing covid-19 related situation and enforced social distancing and afterwards?

Do you anticipate a requirement for all team members to be on-site, colocated with your teams 5 days a week or will a remote team with some on-site presence and face-to-face meetings as required suit your needs?
As stated in the requirements, the primary location for delivery of these services will be the ESFA office in Coventry.

Due to current working restrictions in relation to Covid-19 it is likely that there will be remote working initially. Once these restrictions are lifted this will be reviewed for each of Statement of Work.
8. Would you accept a remote UK based development capacity for this? (with onsite team members as required to ensure a close collaboration)

This will be required in the short term to mid-term due to COVID, and we have found with other departments that it does not impact on efficiency or team working at all.
As stated in the requirements, the primary location for delivery of these services will be the ESFA office in Coventry. Due to current working restrictions in relation to COVID-19 it is likely that there will be remote working initially. Once these restrictions are lifted this will be reviewed for each of Statement of Work.
9. In regards to the question "notable experience architecting large-scale software systems which are robust, scalable, open and secure", can you clarify what you mean by "open" as it can have different meanings, i.e. Open specification, open source, developing in the open.
‘Open’ applies broadly to ‘open specification’, ‘open source’ and ‘developing in the open.’
10. In regards to the question "detailed knowledge of a number of programming languages", can you share the list of programming languages you are interested in?
The programming languages & technologies in-use at the service are primarily C#, Microsoft .Net, MVC Razor, HTML, Css and Javascript as set out in the Essential Criteria.
11. Can you advise, in terms working on multi-stakeholder programmes, are you looking for experience in development and delivery or discovery and user research or both?
The primary focus is on development and delivery.
12. In the question "Commitment to develop Buyer's permanent staff" are you looking for us to demonstrate where we have previously delivered this, or simply a commitment that we will do this in this engagement?
We are looking for suppliers to demonstrate how they have previously developed buyer’s permanent staff – considering the approach taken and ways of working implemented.