Views from our Client and Partner Day
In case you missed our Client and Partner Day or want to find out a bit about what goes on, we've summarised some of the days key points...
We recently held our third annual Client and Partner Day. The focus for the event is an honest and open debate about how government buys its technology – the barriers and opportunities, perceived and real, from both clients and suppliers viewpoints.
With four expert panellists leading the discussion, and many seasoned professionals attending what proved to be a packed workshop, there were plenty of thought-provoking and openly challenging ideas.
The main themes explored included:
- Views on what works and what doesn’t work for SMEs trying to engage with public service organisations, with specific tips and help
- Examples of outstanding supplier performance and what made it so special from the point of view of public sector buyers
- What clients and suppliers could do differently or better to close the gap between the potential of IT to support digital transformation in the public sector
- The main barriers and how to deal with them (or do we just live with them?) – the reality of buying and implementing technology in the public sector.
- How can suppliers find out more about a potential client, to ensure that they put forward appropriate proposals and engage as effectively as possible?
- So, you’ve a great product/service/solution – but how to pitch and to whom?
Our expert witnesses and panellists:
- Jos Creese: Strategic Client Adviser at Advice Cloud and chair for the day
- Chris Farthing: Founder, Advice Cloud
- Simon Bray: Commander, Met Police
- Anthony Collard: HMRC Director of Architecture & Innovation
- Emelia Cedano: CCS Commercial Lead
Discussions, challenges and observations
There was discussion about trends in IT and in tech practices that our panel of experts believe will be important during 2019 – AI, cloud, changing IT roles, cyber and more. In general, it was felt these would create new opportunity for SMEs, but it was also noted that changing cultures in the public sector would help SMEs most – such as attitudes to SMEs and fear of some new technology methods such as cloud.
Our panel felt that financial pressures on the public sector which continue to bite, would both drive the sector to be less risk averse and embrace the innovation that SMEs offer, but may also result in greater caution and care in taking on new projects. So, a double-edged sword, and SMEs can help by explaining risks and value realisation in their products and services as clearly as possible.
There was much discussion about G-Cloud and DOS, both positive and negative. Some SMEs reported G-Cloud to be hugely helpful, and most thought a G-Cloud presence was necessary. But there were also misgivings about the level of take-up by the public sector and the effort of getting onto the framework.
Not surprisingly, everyone agreed how important it is for suppliers and government to work more collaboratively, to deliver better outcomes at lower risk and higher value. But how to approach this? One area of discussion was the value of pre-tender engagement sessions.
Again, the SME experience was mixed. Some had found these types of pre-tender supplier sessions with prospective public sector clients helpful in understanding needs and building relationships, so being better at pitching solutions accordingly. But others were critical of some public sector organisation for not making best use of SME time in such events.
In the worst examples, some public sector bodies simply wanted to demonstrate they had consulted but had no intention of buying, except from pre-agreed suppliers. For SMEs, every engagement must count. Whilst the information gathering for both buyers and sellers is necessary, there is not the capacity for SMEs to spend time talking that doesn’t assist in a procurement process (unlike some large perhaps IT suppliers that have teams doing nothing else).
Expert panel member, CCS Commercial Lead Emilia Cedeno, who launched the ‘Digital Buying Community’ spoke about what makes a good supplier briefing session before formal procurement. We are looking forward to seeing what comes of it during the year, and Emilia is keen to hear from SMEs with ideas and feedback, to help improve practice.
Panellist Antony Collard, HMRC Director of Architecture & Innovation, had a few exciting announcements as well, including HMRC-hosted events in the next few months aimed at discussing digital innovation, and setting up innovation showcases for SMEs, including hackathons. He encouraged attendees to play a part in these.
One of the common threads in our discussion was the importance of suppliers understanding public sector client culture and challenges, connecting more tangibly with buyer ambitions. It’s not enough to have great marketing and sales teams alongside product expertise. SME bids, proposals, ideas, communications and service offerings need to resonate with the challenges of public sector clients, in terms of culture, timing, risk appetite and priority outcomes, not just IT needs alone.
Advice Cloud supplier teams talk about this a lot: to have a successful sales and marketing strategy you need to know your buyer. This was echoed by all of our speakers, to the extent of advising suppliers to take care when working with public service organisations that appear to be slow, digitally immature and bureaucracy-heavy, however big the rewards! By contrast, there are many public sector bodies that are fast moving, innovative, embrace SME offerings and are quite commercial in their outlook – they naturally make the best clients for SMEs.
From the public sector leader’s point of view, panellist Commander Simon Bray, from the Met Police, shared his experiences where suppliers do not always understand the complexity of the Police market. He urged SMEs to prepare well, reading easily available material on the web, such as important strategies (check out our Policing White Paper, for example).
Antony Collard talked about the changing culture of HMRC, to genuinely welcome informal SME approaches, which offer ideas on working together better, or new ways of working with IT. He saw the future for HMRC digital innovation depending on informal collaboration outside (and alongside) the necessary formal procurement approaches, even for a large body more traditional public body such as HMRC.
There was much more covered at this event than we can summarise here, including ways of developing ‘proof of concept’ solutions to solve specific business problems facing public bodies. If you want to know more, get in touch!
Our Advice Cloud events, such as this Client and Partner Day, are aimed to help SMEs specifically, by providing advice and practical support. But they are also designed to create a space where public sector leaders and SMEs can work together to tackle problems and increase the opportunities to support digital transformation for mutual benefit.
Thank you to all those who attended and we look forward to the next one in 2020! ?