The reality of working with Government IT

There remains a widespread industry belief that Government IT spends too much money on lengthy, poor value contracts with large IT companies – at the expense of working with SMEs. We think this criticism is unfair and wide of the mark. As an SME-size, IT services and solutions provider that has been bidding for public sector work for over 30 years, and operates on many Frameworks, we are well qualified to comment on the validity of this topic.

In our experience, the Government is making great strides to tackle their negative perception, and back in 2011 a target was set for Government to conduct 25% of its business with SMEs. It’s also been publicly stated on many occasions that the Government is trying to create a level playing field for smaller companies to be able to compete with the key players. This assertion is backed up by Government released statistics that suggest 25% of its overall spend between 2013 and 2014 was with SMEs.

In fact, over the 5 years, Government procurement processes have improved in many ways. The government is trying to make life easier for SMEs to be successful in tendering for contracts and has simplified and sped up procurement – which has led to more contract wins. We don’t think the Government themselves still favour larger suppliers for big projects, although the contracting bodies may often be reluctant to use a smaller business to fulfil them – due to scale and resources.

In the past few years we have seen the direction to use SME businesses as very beneficial and rewarding for us. In fact, the previous Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills, Vince Cable, wrote  to us last year explaining they are systematically monitoring which opportunities in procurement pipelines are appropriate for small businesses and that targets set for SME’s had been achieved.

We believe they are committed to ensuring that SMEs are in the best position to compete for and win more contracts. As part of the Government Agenda which supports SMEs delivering to government agencies –we are proud to have been recognised by them as a shining example.

The biggest challenges facing small businesses bidding for public sector work are mainly frameworks – if you are not on a Government framework, or don’t have access to one, then conducting business is a huge challenge. We believe that it’s up to SMEs to work hard to better themselves and use their value, flexibility and short chain of command to their advantage – when tendering for government business. Those companies who deliver outstanding performance to the public sector will be recognised by the Government.

As we have prime contractor status on a number of frameworks, it’s easier to win direct business. We have been very successful over the past three years on the current IT procurement frameworks. I believe this is due to our agility, willingness to tender for both small and large contracts – and to partner with best of breed vendors.

There will always be challenges when dealing with Government department procurement teams. To overcome these, establishing clear communications with them, is key to success. We continue to attend or deliver IT Procurement strategy groups, IT Forums, workshops, news bulletins, individual face to face meetings – and run formal presentations.

The fruits of our labour have resulted in us being awarded single supplier status on Scottish Procurement’s new Server Maintenance Framework. We have also recently won a place on all 11 lots of The Crown Commercial Services’ Technology Services Framework. This success follows our excellent performance, over the last 6 years, on the outgoing CITHS framework, where we supplied technology solutions for complex, public sector infrastructure projects.

Steve Nicholls, Group Sales Director for The MCSA Group