In February 2012, Francis Maude MP and Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, finally took the wraps off the much anticipated government online ‘app store’, CloudStore. According to specialist public sector analysts, TechMarketView, around 50 per cent of the 257 suppliers on CloudStore are SMEs. In addition to transforming the way that public sector procures cloud-based ICT services, it is hoped that CloudStore will offer SME suppliers the same opportunities as larger IT organisations and help redress the low volume of business the UK public sector undertakes with SMEs.
CloudStore, along with the Government’s publicly stated ambition to achieve a minimum of 25 per cent spend with SMEs, has been cited by some SMEs as a turnabout. Justin Bowser, Managing Director of HTK, was quoted in various media as saying: “G-Cloud is a real game changer. It is on one side a very tangible, visible demonstration of the way government wants to change the way it procures. From a procurer point of view, it doesn’t give them an excuse not to look at SMEs, because it is such a high profile demonstration. I don’t think SMEs can be ignored anymore.”
Debating the SME playing field
We recently took the initiative to champion the SME cause at this transitional time by organising a roundtable debate to answer the question: ‘What progress has central government made in levelling the public sector procurement playing field for SMEs?’
It was the first in a private, invite-only series of events that we’ll be running in the next 12 months. The events will connect our public sector contacts with technology influencers who have interesting propositions and points of view.
The debate was a real demonstration of our team’s capabilities – understanding the issues that SMEs are facing; understanding the great efforts that the Cabinet Office has already made to support SMEs; and bringing together the most influencing speakers on the topic into a positive open debate. Our MD Toby Gavin chaired and it was a packed 90 minutes.
Representing central government were Liam Maxwell, Executive Director of Reform, Cabinet Office and Deputy CIO for Government; Stephen Allott Crown rep for SMEs, Cabinet Office. Also on the public sector side were Neil Warsop, government procurement expert and Ben Goward, the CIO of Westminster City Council. We invited a small group of sector focused SME technology companies who had all mentioned specific procurement questions and concerns recently. We then completed the debate by inviting two of the UK’s most active public sector IT writers, Kathleen Hall from Computer Weekly and David Bicknell, editor of Government Computing.
With some careful moderation from Toby, all delegates acknowledged the progress that the Cabinet Office had made since the pledges of the coalition Government to make business easier for SMEs in the UK. There was also recognition that more still needed to be done and the Cabinet Office very clearly laid out its plans.
Naturally, the event was bought to a close with many opportunities for both SME and Government participants to networking informally, and schedule follow up meetings.