In July this year, we interviewed Chris Farthing, Managing Director of Advice Cloud, public sector procurement specialists and G-Cloud consultants, to find out more about the opportunities and challenges being on the G-Cloud Framework presents for SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) in the UK.
G-Cloud 10 recently went live (2nd July 2018). What aspects of the framework can you tell us about that could benefit SMEs?
I think the main thing for any framework and particularly with G-Cloud, is that SMEs are now given a key to the door. If you previously didn’t have any framework accreditation it was very difficult for a buyer to actually buy your services because of the complex procurement processes that you need to follow. SMEs have the ability now to be able to walk into any one of the 38,000 organisations in the UK that consider themselves a public service organisation and say: “We are on a framework and you can contract from us quickly”.
G-Cloud has a direct award facility, it’s one of the few frameworks that do. If you follow the right process, no further competition needs to be done. If I was a buyer, I could award directly to Zoonou for example, providing you turn out to be the best price or the right (or only) people to provide me that service.
The less tangible benefit, but it’s actually very important for a supplier, is helping you with visibility. You get a Crown Commercial Services supplier logo which we encourage all our suppliers to use. That carries a huge amount of weight in the market.
What are the typical barriers that an SME would have when selling to the public sector that they need to overcome?
For an SME that is new to the market, getting airtime from buyers and finding the right people to speak to is going to be a challenge. With the UK public sector, this is slightly more so because they very much like to buy from people that have experience in their sector. It’s increasingly less so thanks to things like Digital Marketplace and G-Cloud because people are buying innovative new services.
Make sure your value proposition is correct. By that I mean: What is in it for the buyer? What is the problem you are solving? If you’re in front of one of the CIOs of the Ministry of Justice or Home Office and you just talk about your company and the services you can do, you’re going to waste your time and theirs. If you talk about the problem that you solve, then that is a very powerful way of approaching things.
For SMEs, selling to the public sector might seem like a big challenge compared to selling to the private sector in terms of hoops you need to jump through. Do you think that’s true, and if so, what might you say to an SME?
Not necessarily, providing you’ve got your framework accreditation – if you’ve done your homework. It can be difficult to supply to regulated organisations such as financial services. The public sector is slightly slower about making its decisions, but the scope of the market is so wide that I don’t think there’s any real difference to [selling services to] a commercial organisation. Just maybe the slow decision making.
What would impact a buyer’s decision when choosing how to buy services? For instance, whether they use G-Cloud, DOS or another framework? There are hundreds of portals out there that they could use.
It’s the type of services that you are looking to buy. G-Cloud is for commodity cloud services, infrastructure for service, platform and software as a service. DOS is mostly for outcomes – you want something built, or for specialist resource. There are some overlaps, but in the main the buyer is going to ask themselves: “Ok what am I buying?”. That will narrow down options for route to market, especially if I’m going to use a framework.
They will then look at the value of the contract. Is it going to be above the EU procurement threshold for services? Which is currently £118,000 for central government organisations and £181,000 for wider public sector such as the NHS, education and local government. Once you have accessed that, you will have a much better idea of your route to market. If what you are looking to buy is only £10,000, then realistically you don’t need to go to a framework, you can just go to three suppliers and get three quotes.
The length of the contract will be considered as well. If you’re looking for something that has to be over 5 years then G-Cloud is not for you, as G-Cloud is a maximum of 4 years.
What range of buyers do you meet and what typically are their concerns and worries? How do they go about resolving these?
We meet people from the Chief Digital Information Officers of very large departments (for example, we had an event with Tom Read this week, the CIO of the Ministry of Justice) down to fairly humble procurement officers that are new to the job. We’re increasingly getting to know the service managers, the people that are actually responsible for the services that are being delivered. They are coming to us saying: “I’ve got these problems, can they be solved? Procurement is telling me ‘this’ and IT is telling me ‘that’. What’s the reality here?”.
Some of the concerns we see? Budget is always a big one. Budgets are being slashed across government.
Technical debt. There are a lot of legacy systems out there and trying to find the teams, the energy and the money to get people moved off of those is quite significant. If you look at some of the bigger company departments, they’ve got years and years of stuff going back that they don’t know how to get off. They have to keep paying large systems integrators a fortune to keep them going.
Recruitment and retention. Getting good quality staff.
And clearly Brexit. Brexit is always a challenge at the moment and the fact no one has a clue what is going to happen in March is a bit of a problem.
It’s understandable that the suppliers, particularly smaller suppliers, seek advice. But do buyers tend to seek advice from places like Advice Cloud?
They get advice from Advice Cloud and generally from the market as well. When I was a buyer, we contacted other people similar to us and asked them what they had done. That can be a good thing in some ways, as it may open your eyes if you’re looking at someone who is a bit more progressive. But quite often, it can lead you to buying from the same old people. What more progressive setups are now doing is using the Digital Marketplace as a tool for early market engagement and they are getting more used to speaking to the wider market earlier in the process rather than waiting. It’s a slow-moving thing, but it is happening more and more. We’ve been doing a lot of work around early market engagement.
What is the typical relationship between the people who are buying or using the service (e.g. the project managers or product managers) and the procurement teams or the teams in charge of approving suppliers?
It’s hugely varied. Technology and procurement are not usually the best of bedfellows.
There is usually some form of historical tension. However, the more forward-thinking IT teams who are now basing themselves on agile principles, certainly around multidisciplinary teams, working out in the open and trying to get people involved in understanding user needs; the more successful ones are bringing procurement in at the beginning. Rather than traditionally (and still about 70% of the way things go), procurement is seen as a ‘do it’ function. Rather than getting out there and working out what the art of the possible is, and maybe looking at things differently. That’s not to say that procurement doesn’t have a role to play in changing that. They need to get away from their desks and get out and be part of those teams and join in the stand-ups and try to mix – not be the department of ‘No’.
At what level in public sector organisations do people get involved with the buying process? What level of an organisation should SMEs be reaching out to?
If I was looking at a big transformation project which is large scale change, then it’s the CEO, the permanent secretaries, the heads of departments, or the Chief Officers. It really does depend on the nature of what you are doing. Increasingly we are finding that technology is becoming marginalised because the nature of cloud technology and technology teams are becoming marginalised. The service users and managers are the ones making the decisions because of the ubiquity of cloud services now and the way they are available. People are used to searching for this stuff, they’re used to having helpful technology on their phones at home. For an SME it is a bit daunting, but it’s about covering all the bases you’re in, trying to get to know the technologists, the service users and the procurement and commercial teams as well.
From Zoonou’s perspective, we’re always thinking about testing and quality assurance (QA). What do you think are the key testing and QA concerns for public sector organisations in 2018?
Accessibility is absolutely key. There is a piece of legislation that’s come in that says that all [public sector] services should be accessible. On the Digital Marketplace, there are an awful lot of services and software suppliers on there that say, ‘not compatible’. They are immediately shooting themselves in the foot because they are not available to buyers. A forward-thinking testing firm would not just be looking at the buyers but looking at the supplier firms as well. If I was you, I would be searching on the Digital Marketplace and looking through all the software firms for those who have no accessibility or have limited standards and approaching them to see if they are aware of this particular piece of legislation.
About Advice Cloud and Chris Farthing:
Advice Cloud are public sector procurement specialists and G-Cloud consultants. They specialise in assisting both Public and Private organisations in buying and selling services that include IT, Cloud, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Digital and Professional Services.
Previously a Public Sector procurement specialist, for the past four years Chris has been the lead for Advice Cloud, helping the Public Sector to buy amazing cloud & digital services as well as working tirelessly with SME (in the main) companies to help them understand how the UK Public Sector buys its tech and services.
You can find out more about Zoonou’s full range of G-Cloud 10 services by viewing our listings on the new Digital Marketplace. Please get in touch with Rhodri at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss G-Cloud in more detail.