Much has been made of the government's recent announcement that it plans to open up IT procurement to SMBs. This move is long overdue, as a wealth of suppliers offer cost-effective solutions and alternate IT expertise that can be used to cut costs and improve efficiency across the public sector.
The proposals may also signal the end of a reliance on a mega-vendor culture that has often strangled innovation and left ministers red-faced while trying to explain multimillion-pound overspends on apparently routine IT projects.
Fostering a culture where SMBs can thrive and develop, through access to major contracts and projects, is vital to getting the economy and the private sector moving again. But these contracts should not be won on quotas; they should be won on merit.
SMB offerings should be taken into account, evaluated and adapted for the needs and requirements of each individual department. This approach will require SMBs to package their offerings appropriately and show good examples of RoI and innovation.
This creates not only a level playing field but a competitive one.
It is already happening in the open-source sector with the launch of the government's online toolkit. This aims to help IT decision makers in the public sector compare offerings derived from open source against those of proprietary software vendors, encouraging choices based on merit.
Open-source development can be a hive of innovation. Constant upgrades and updates encourage progressive development. But they must also be able to deliver commercial SLAs and enterprise support.
Vendors of open-source products should also cultivate an ecosystem of partners and integrators that can offer specialised expertise in vertical and horizontal offerings.
Some have had extensive user uptake and power millions of websites around the world. Hosting and support must also be provided to increase the appeal of open source to enterprise customers and the public sector. At the same time, many partners are developing successful businesses based on services for open-source offerings.
The public sector has learnt through trial and error that bigger doesn't always mean better. At the same time, smaller providers should be selected on their merit and ability to compete effectively in the bidding process.
Meanwhile, the UK's massive public sector debts suggest there has never been a better time for smaller technology providers to put forwards their innovative and cost-effective offerings, and prove their offerings are just as credible and effective as those of proprietary software vendors.
Jim Shaw is EMEA managing director at Acquia
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