At the recent Working Together conference in London, leading UK system builders Compusys, Chisholms, Ergo, Elonex and Evesham were invited to meet and demonstrate their offerings for leading government IT procurement managers.
Sponsored by Intel, EDS and others, the conference was designed to highlight the issues facing smaller system builders that want to work with the public sector.
Despite government efforts to promote greater SME involvement, system builders are often deterred by the complex tendering process, while public-sector IT managers are often afraid to risk working with smaller, unknown companies.
The event, which included presentations, debates and break-out sessions, also highlighted many of the opportunities and advantages of working with system builders, including better value for money, flexibility and higher levels of service.
"The biggest problem for system integrators is understanding the requirements of dealing with government; there is a lot of paperwork, rules and regulations," said Jackie Parton, Intel's UK and Ireland channel marketing manager.
"They also find they are trying to compete with a lot of big-name suppliers, and a lot of local authorities prefer to go with the bigger name.
"But there are a number of key benefits to working with smaller suppliers because they understand the local market.
"They can pay a lot of attention to all of a customer's requirements and offer a very tailored solution, not just a general, out-of-the-box one."
Gerard Toplass, managing director of system builder Chisholms, which demonstrated at the Working Together event, said: "There were some interesting points raised, but whether the public sector will take action remains to be seen.
"I think the public sector sees compliance to process as more important than value for money. The education sector is going in the right direction, though, with a lot more inclusion of smaller suppliers."
The event, attended by high-level IT procurement managers at the Inland Revenue (IR), NHS and local authorities, was chaired by Rene Carayol, business guru and non-executive director at the IR.
He said: "IT procurement has made significant advances in recent years, especially in terms of process and consistency.
"However, some of these processes are not only 'bulletproof' but have made it well-nigh impossible for small, fast-moving and highly capable British-based organisations ever to do business with central government."
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