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SMEs – we need to talk

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Technology, Transformation

The following is a post from Chris Chant, Executive Director in the Cabinet Office working as Programme Director for the G-Cloud initiative.

I said in my last blog post that the government is changing the way we buy and use IT. We have trained our suppliers and ourselves to think that we need big, complex solutions to complicated problems; which has meant that all too often it’s only the big, complex suppliers that get a look in.

We are changing all this. We are giving SMEs and ourselves a chance to work together by levelling the playing field for all IT suppliers. This won't happen overnight and we won't get it right first time. This is new territory for many departments and very few are experienced at handling this new way of working. I think it's fair to say that many just can't see how this can happen yet though many know it must.

First off government has realised that it’s not that different. From now on if government wants some IT it needs to do what everyone else does and look at what’s already available, not just what we can pay to have built for us and not just what we are used to doing. It will be uncomfortable, uncharted territory for many but it must be done. It is unacceptable for things to remain the same. So if you are a SME and you have a SaaS or other cloud service that government might use – we want to know about it.

Second we are going to use open standards wherever we can, make as much government data as open as possible and buy IT on pay-as-we-go or short term contracts. Some contracts may be longer but there must be a break option, in my view, at no later than 12 months. Of course organisations will offer lower prices for longer lock-ins but,as I've said before, the cost of being unable to exit will almost always outweigh the savings. This will give all suppliers a chance to offer services to us, keep the market dynamic and will let us move from one supplier to another as better services and offers emerge – which means those companies that are agile enough (frequently in the SME market place) can compete more successfully for our business.

Lastly, tendering for government business is a pain for businesses. We have to comply with EU law, but the reason the law is in place is to keep things fair for all suppliers and not give government an excuse to create processes so complex that in the end only the biggest companies can invest in understanding them.

We’ve started to change that. We have made the G-Cloud procurement a lot easier to understand and get through. G-Cloud has no massively complex set of requirements that you need a PhD to understand. Just use the forms to tell us what services you have – all the documentation is online and we’ve written a simple guide if you have never worked with us before. In fact if you haven’t we really want you to apply.

We can do more and we will do more. The GDS Innovation team is opening up new channels for suppliers to work with us, especially on small projects. We can and will make procurement even simpler for everyone.

So, if you are an SME,  any supplier that’s never worked with government, or  an existing supplier that "gets" cloud – you are the type of people we need to work with the deliver the savings all of us need. Come on, talk to us.

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  1. Comment by #nhssm: IT in healthcare, how to champion its use for the greater good | attdigital posted on

    [...] So how to go about laying down those exacting foundations? The Government Digital Service has blogged on procuring the right systems across government and it is highly applicable to the NHS too – Chris Chant’s post ‘The Unacceptable‘ is a breath of fresh air, and make sure you read his follow up, ‘SMEs – we need to talk‘. [...]

  2. Comment by Community Teacamps for November and December | Government Digital Service posted on

    [...] SMEs or on the ICT G-Cloud, follow @SMECrownRep  on Twitter and check out Chris Chant’s blog posts on the Government Digital Service [...]

  3. Comment by G-Cloud and the end of the #unacceptable « Digital by Default posted on

    [...] Chris has since written a couple of additional posts on the GDS blog outlining what his team is trying to achieve and encouraging more SMEs to become part of the solution. [...]

  4. Comment by Michael Saunby (@msaunby) posted on

    The need for rules to prevent the inappropriate use of technical standards to restrict trade is well known and well established for international trade for the whole of my adult life

    It will be good to see these basic principles applied everywhere -

    The impact or cost of implementing the standard must be proportional to the purpose of the standard.

    If there are two or more ways of achieving the same objective, the least trade restrictive alternative should be followed.

  5. Comment by GroupSetUp (@GroupSetUp) posted on

    A step in the right direction! Actually the fact that Government is attempting this is a huge leap forward into the 21st Century. Along with initiatives like As a startup, all I can say is keep going.

    Will we win any business? I hope so - there are many ways we can help in cutting down the bureaucracy and red tape and therefore cost, but only time will tell. Will it be an opportunity cost - yes! Many us have worked in and run global organisations and we understand that we cannot win every tender.

    So can we just get on with it now! The system will evolve, refine and get better.

    The biggest part will be the follow on blogs to this that have the metrics to show that this initiative has yielded tangible results both for SMEs as well as the Government.

    Let's see those results and the case studies!

    Nigel @GroupSetUp

  6. Comment by William posted on

    This is all far closer to "ideal" than experience to date. More strength to your arm Chris. Results will tell!

    • Replies to William>

      Comment by Chris Chant posted on

      Thanks mate

  7. Comment by Charlie Hull (@FlaxSearch) posted on

    We run an SME supplying full text search solutions - so I went to the Contract Finder and typed in "search engine" - here's the results: Unfortunately not many seem relevant - for example doesn't even contain the words 'search engine' and is about a "Finance ledger and purchasing system".

    Of course, if you'd like some help sorting this out...

  8. Comment by Chris Chant posted on

    Thanks for the feedback. So far we've had a pretty good response. Certainly we started from the view of someone who's never done it before, but our hands are often tied. We are certainly looking to improve wherever we can and to help we are trying to put together an "apply camp" before cut off to try to do that. We are working already on version 2 which we hope to launch in Jan. as I've said elsewhere we've got to be iterative and responsive in our approach and we will be. Thanks again

  9. Comment by SaaS or Cloud SME? – get in touch says Cabinet Office official | Campaign4Change posted on

    [...] says it won’t happen overnight and mistakes may be made.  “This is new territory for [...]

  10. Comment by countculture posted on

    Well meant, but once you start exploring the links you've gone down the rabbit hole and lost half an hour, and as anyone who's ever done a startup knows that one of the single biggest issues is opportunity cost. If this is not going to be a time sink, we need to know whether we're likely to be able to provide things the G-Cloud is going to need. TheG-Cloud short guide lists 4 groups of requirements, but these are so vague as to be no help with whether it's worthwhile going through the process of registering.

    I found Tender Clarification Questions and Answers, but couldn't find the document it related to.

    If you really do want small innovative companies and startups to work with you (and not just long-established existing medium sized businesses), you should start from the idea that we've never done this sort of thing before, and don't have an hour to waste on something which might not be relevant.