1. Shorten procurement process
According to research published in a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), the UK's public sector purchasing process is one of the longest in Europe, 53 days longer than the EU average! This is crippling for small businesses, which often lack the resources to take part in such an expensive, lengthy procurement process.
More should be done to make the procurement process shorter and simpler for vendors to participate in, which will not only attract more SMEs, but will reward the government with increased competition and the best possible value for the solution needed.
2. Leverage large organisations
The government should encourage and promote collaboration between larger enterprises and SMEs. Initially we started selling direct but soon realised that we needed to work with partners and SIs. Sometimes the only way to get through the door is to buddy up with an incumbent. There is also an appetite by the incumbents to work with SMEs too, so helping to facilitate industry collaboration is something the government should be working towards.
The government should work with industry players and partners to identify sector-wide issues faced by both SMEs and larger organisations and come up with initiatives and solutions that can be adopted to improve productivity within the sector.
3. Award more contracts to SMEs
Getting SMEs onto the right frameworks is one way the government is helping change the procurement process, but larger organisations are still continuing to get the lion's share of the contracts.
While the government continues to award contracts to large system integrators that use closed technologies like VMware, it's not sending the right message to the SME community. With a raft of small innovative and privately owned UK companies why does the government still look to US giants like Amazon and VMware for i's digital infrastructure?
4. SME focus group sessions
SME-only focus group sessions, like the 10% Group [collection of government-focused SMEs] need to be supported by GDS. This allows for open discussions with several SME leaders to better understand the challenges that SMEs are facing today.
This type of focus group would also enable SMEs to meet and foster collaboration between likeminded businesses that are keen to bring complete, innovative solutions to government.
5. Training for civil servants
As well as seeking to educate SMEs on improving their chances of winning public sector business, the government also needs to challenge their procurement officers and bidding managers to increase their engagement with the supplier market. Very often we're finding the conversations with suppliers are taking place long before they get to the digital marketplace to procure services and speaking with other vendors is simply a box-ticking exercise.
They should be using the G-Cloud by default, and required to explain reasons for not doing so.
Further, the government needs to continue to educate on cybersecurity and its assurance and accreditation processes. The onus should not be on suppliers to educate on these matters and advise what are the suitable security standards that need to be adhered to.
6. Understanding open systems
With the government's policy that open standards must be considered when specifying technology requirements, better understanding of open standards must be encouraged. Most SMEs are early adopters of open source, but for the government open source solutions can be operated and maintained by multiple suppliers providing an opportunity for SMEs to compete in the government market.
This will lead to code sharing cultures, better citizen accessibility, and greater control over IT projects, potentially reducing the reliance on particular software developers or suppliers encouraging competition, addressing vendor lock-in and reducing commercial barriers to entry and exit for government.
Nathan Johnston is Memset's head of sales
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