SMEs and Government: Working Better Together

Small and medium-sized IT companies are powering the UK’s economic recovery, as our country fast becomes a ‘tech nation’.

Research from the London Stock Exchange (LSE) reveals that companies in the SME IT sector enjoyed an average year-on-year revenue growth of 350% between 2010 and 2014. It is a trend that can continue as these UK technology pioneers forge ahead with the provision of innovative solutions and services to larger enterprises, the Government and the wider economy. This is despite remaining issues around the ease of raising capital in the UK, where we do doubtless lag behind others such as the USA and Israel.

Engagement with SMEs is vital to the transformation of public services. As with diversity at board level, it brings the best and the brightest to the table, injects vibrancy and opens the doors to new collaborative and creative problem-solving mechanisms. It is the reason why the UK Government has taken steps to make government business more accessible to SMEs.

Despite attempts to simplify procurement processes and make these more transparent, there is still a lot of uncertainty among SMEs about how pre-procurement works; when it starts and what is involved. There continues to be a need for a clearer, common language across government to demystify and rationalise the requirements and processes associated with procurement. SMEs need to proactively seek to better educate themselves too.

But the mantra of ‘do it once, do it quickly’ that underpins new procurement practices, like framework agreements, is certainly helping SMEs to surmount traditionally bureaucratic, burdensome and costly pre-qualification requirements that previously inhibited full participation down the supply chain.

And further red tape preventing small businesses from winning government contracts is to be stripped away later this month; it has been announced that PQQs (pre-qualification questionnaires) are being standardised to simplify the application process, and are being shelved completely for contracts valued below EU thresholds for goods and services.

What’s more, large IT vendors are now looking to actively partner with SMEs to deliver additional value and innovation on government IT contracts. This in part the result of our government’s encouragement for them to do so. As explained, SMEs can deliver real benefit to such large companies but can also while doing so help accelerate their own learning curve towards becoming a strategic supplier in their own right longer term.

Creating an ecosystem where there is equality of opportunity for all and innovation can be captured is no easy task. But channels for communicating and engagement with senior business and public sector procurement leaders are opening up.

Forums like techUK, for example, offer valuable insights into the latest government supplier selection procedures and provide significant ‘solution exchange’ opportunities – safe environments in which government departments and agencies can consult with SMEs alongside large IT vendors on initiatives that will deliver better public services at best value for UK taxpayers. They can also serve as advocates for required changes and the adoption of best practice.

The Government is striving to cut the red tape that inhibits SMEs from participating on an equal footing with big players and is encouraging big players to properly engage with SMEs, but it cannot be a One Way street. Alongside creating compelling best-of-breed propositions and solutions, SMEs must also take ownership and responsibility if they wish to become a government supplier. That means proactive engagement, gaining visibility and a voice; aggressively grasping every opportunity to demonstrate their capability, and fighting for that first win that brings referenceablity and the foothold from which to build a lasting business proposition.

Be at all times absolutely clear about what you are selling, to whom; how and why they would buy it from you, then ensure that you have properly skilled and experienced people talking to the right people (not all and anyone in government – remember your people, time and money are finite resources !) in the right manner about the right things. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Great thoughts unacted on never positively impact a business’s bottom line. It is about relentless focus on a clearly defined strategy and never playing the victim. Yes, it can appear an uphill struggle on occasion, but complaint alone rarely achieved much. Henry Ford best summed it up “if you think you can or you think you can’t you are probably right”. SME companies have a huge contribution to make, there is much positive change afoot and much more that we can assist become our reality, let’s make it happen.

Huw Owen

This blog by Huw Owen was originally published by TechUK.

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