NIHR – Early Market Engagement Readiness Assessment

The University of Southampton/National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) had been awarded a contract to continue the administration of research funding on behalf of The Department of Health and Social Care.  In view of the reduced investment it had been awarded to administer these funding services, NIHR was working towards a new Target Operating Model (TOM) to increase efficiencies and reduce operating costs across the organisation. In order to meet the requirements of the new contract and TOM, NIHR needed to replace its existing Grants Management platform. 

NIHR wanted to test the supplier marketplace to see if an off-the-shelf series of solutions was available to support the key objectives of its TOM. They were taking a sensible and safe approach to their procurement having had past experience of poorly performing systems, inadequate requirement specifications, poor contracts and inappropriate advice from suppliers. NIHR were keen to avoid these past behaviours and ensure the new systems they procured and implemented with new supplier relationships, enabled the organisation to achieve its objectives.  As a first step, they wanted to assess their ‘Readiness’ to go out to market and set the expectation with the market of being a mature and low-risk client to improve their reach for potential suppliers responding to any Early Market Engagement (EME) exercise. BPG were called in to design and conduct the Early Market Engagement Readiness Assessment. 

BPG’s Early Market Engagement Readiness Assessment

Our assessment covered both organisational and stakeholder readiness to help NIHR clarify what information and processes needed to be in place to undertake a successful EME exercise that would comply with EU regulation and provide NIHR with the appropriate fit-for-purpose feedback.  

  • Organisational Readiness for overall IT systems change, (including infrastructure and support). To determine what aspects of its systems are working well, what needs improvement, and how the outcomes and objectives tie into its goal for improvement. 
  • Stakeholder Readiness for change, motivation for improvement, team infrastructure, and leadership support. To identify what is working well and opportunities for improvement. 

Our process involved eight stages of work: 

Stage 1 – Business plan/desired outcomes reviewNIHR had already articulated their business vision and strategy. We reviewed these to understand the potential solutions that would be required to deliver the desired business outcomes. It was also important to understand what benefits and expected change had been communicated to stakeholders and the extent to which they were on board with the proposed change. 

Stage 2 – Preliminary RequirementsWe assessed at a preliminary level the requirements and processes that had been documented and assessed the degree to which they could be relied upon to align to anticipated business benefits.  

Stage 3 – Lessons Learned Review. We reviewed lessons learned from the previous project and relationship to understand what would be most appropriate to consider for the EME and future solutions procurement. 

Stage 4 – Vendor visibility. Based on the above information, we assessed what highlevel market engagement/due diligence process would be most appropriate so that NIHR expectations could be communicated effectively to potential strategic IT partners.  

Stage 5 – Stakeholder Interviews. We held discussions with all key stakeholders to understand their roles, views, requirements and levels of buy-in with the TOM and the procurement project and capture their observations on governance, type of provider/solution required, and relationship strengths & challenges.  

Stage 6 – Contract principles and preliminary procurement review. Based on the business objectives and information gathered during the review, we identified what contractual and procurement principles it would be appropriate to have in place so that these too could be tested through the EME exercise. 

Stage 7 – Procurement governance review. To outline the key principles of an effective governance of the EME to ensure the ‘hygiene factors’ discussed between NIHR and BPG were on the radar, including  (1) audit – are we doing it right, what to improve, (2) here is what good looks like and here is what’s missing, (3) support to enable NIHR to make better choices throughout the EME and any eventual procurement process and (4) the types of vendors that might be engaged with and how well NIHR is putting itself forward as an ‘Intelligent Client’. 

Stage 8 – Workshop output. The NIHR review had been designed to give key principles and indicators of ‘what good looks like’ for an EME exerciseThe purpose was to help identify what was already good about the information NIHR had that it could use to engage the market with and where gaps existed so that they could be filled before undertaking an EME process. 

The key in realising the value output (detailed below) was in the mobilisation and implementation of the information discussed in the Readiness Assessment workshop. Following the Workshop and collation of the Readiness Assessment findings it was clear that NIHR didn’t have a clear procurement or contracting strategy. As an addition to our original instruction (but completed as part of the same job) we developed a procurement strategy for NIHR to help them progress the subsequent stages of their procurement. 

Value Output from the Early Market Engagement Readiness Assessment


  • Had a much clearer line of sight of what information the supplier market needed 
  • Knew what information they already had that could be appropriately communicated to the market, what information needed to be re-aligned and why 
  • Was in a better position to provide the correct balance of information at an EME stage; understanding what information needed more supplementation and what information needed to be condensed and restricted to encourage an appropriate level of response from the supplier market 
  • Understood how to approach the supplier marketplace early, so that EU procurement regulations were not inadvertently breached, while at the same time encouraging suppliers to provide meaningful information regarding whether fitforpurpose solutions could be provided within the financial and operating constraints NIHR was operating within. 
  • Had more clarity over the ‘right questions to ask’ during an EME process so that much better supplier feedback could be provided regarding the ‘art of the possible’ and likely procurement/implementation timescales. 

The Readiness Assessment was also of benefit to the supplier marketplace because it ensured that the right information would be provided in the right manner giving the supplier greater understanding/visibility of: 

  • NIHR and that they are approaching the market in a mature and ‘Intelligent Client’ manner thus leading to a good market reputation prior to embarking on the formal procurement process 
  • The business outcomes and objectives that NIHR were trying to achieve. This often leads to suppliers self-selecting whether they are likely to be able to provide the right type of fit-for-purpose solutions and cultural support 
  • How they could reduce their pricing of risk based on the mature approach NIHR is taking  
  • How they could engage in much more open and honest dialogue earlier in the discussions with NIHR on a fair and equitable basis. This is in the knowledge that a suitable EU compliant process is in place for the EME that will not discriminate between suppliers before a compliant procurement process is undertaken 
  • How their success would be fairly measured and monitored. 

Client Feedback following a successful EME Exercise 

“The Early Market Engagement was very useful in framing our procurement decisions and giving confidence to the stakeholders that we have the right information to make those decisions.”  Charles Wallace, Head of Technology Information Management, National Institute for Health Research