Government – A Difficult Nut to Crack for SMEs

It’s often been a source of frustration to me that Government is an exceptionally difficult nut to crack for the SME.

Not only is it made up of very complex organisations with a myriad of potential contacts to sell to but they have also, historically, had entrenched relationships with larger technology suppliers which has only served to increase the barriers to entry and restrict access to smaller businesses.

So the current government’s plans to level the playing field and provide a target share of 25% of their £8bn IT procurement budget is welcome, if not considerably overdue.

Opening doors to SMEs

It was therefore a breath of fresh air to read Nick Wilson, Hewlett Packard’s UK managing director, report recently in the Telegraph that they would be bucking the trend and opening their doors to SMEs to share in public sector work.

Here’s what he had to say:

“A lot of small companies don’t know how to sell to big businesses. We’re going to make it as easy as possible for them to find what we look for and get on our list.

“The company will hire a dedicated SME team to monitor spending with small suppliers and HP’s payment performance. More big companies should sign the PPC – I don’t know why they aren’t. We’re doing this to lead by example.

“Large companies needed to show that ‘big isn’t ugly’ and we can help. There’s a bit of anti-big company sentiment around at the moment and we need balance.”

Leading systems integrator

In my view these are welcome comments from a leading systems integrator which will hopefully help to ensure that more government IT spend gets channelled to smaller UK technology companies.

In much the same way that we have struggled to make much progress dealing directly with government departments, we have similarly found the different approaches taken by the SI community in contracting with SMEs confusing and difficult to break down.

Having a coordinated approach to involving SMEs in government contract work will be a significant help in simplifying this process. However, it also needs to be backed up by a similar initiative from government to measure and monitor progress so that larger IT contractors are seen to be taking their responsibilities seriously.

SMEs engaging with SIs

Included in these initiatives would be a published, transparent process to show how SMEs can engage with specific SIs along with open declarations of how their approval processes work, which suppliers they currently use, what they use them for and how much they are spending with each.

Until this happens, I suspect that the plans to increase government IT spend with UK SMEs and the opportunities which side alongside that will remain a hollow promise.