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NCC Group: Tickling The Tiger’s Tummy
Deciding to do business in the public sector should come with a health warning. Getting it wrong will seriously damage your reputation; getting it right will significantly enhance it. After several decades of working in and around the public sector, I feel qualified to comment on how to improve your chances of success if you are fortunate to win a contract with the government (the ‘client’).
In this blog, I will set out the advantages and the pitfalls, from an industry perspective, of working with civil servants, contractors and other suppliers under the auspices of a public sector contract. I will highlight the positives that are achievable when doing business with the government, and touch on the key attributes that I believe are essential for achieving high levels of collaboration when you set off on this path.
Before I proceed, a disclaimer. The events and organisations depicted in this blog are fictitious; any similarity to actual organisations, past or present, is purely coincidental.
So why would anyone want to work with the government? Well, the likelihood of the client defaulting on payment is low, and therefore the value of the award is pretty much guaranteed to end up on your balance sheet. And when government clients find suppliers from the industry who actually deliver what they promise, they gain near-mythical status and are in line for repeat business (assuming the appropriate competitive process has been followed). And for many suppliers, there is another element to their engagement, unique to the public sector; they want to encourage the responsible use of taxpayers’ money as well as contribute to the ‘national mission’.
But it doesn’t always work out like that.
Some industry partners ignore, or conveniently forget, where they sit in the relationship with a government client. Some suppliers are so powerful, that they become the master in a relationship that becomes a battle of wits. Awarding a large contract to the lowest bidder has consequences. For example, a tightly written contract can result in expensive change control requests, initiated by the client. The original budget allocated to the contract is soon exceeded. The subsequent friction associated with making incremental improvements to a service can result in progress being stifled, which in turn leads to stagnation in performance and creates a lack of trust.
Whether it’s poor commercial practice, or exploitation by the supplier, getting to the bottom of this issue is more suited to a PhD thesis than a 600-word blog. Of course, these examples are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and most government client/supplier relationships lie somewhere in the middle.
Businesses have the opportunity to demonstrate their value to the government in their initial contract, and through expert collaboration with the client, the right outcome can be achieved. But then the supplier has to do it again. And again. Building trust and ensuring that a mutually respectful relationship is created early on is vital. Going above and beyond, being responsive to changing priorities, and being honest with what you can deliver to the client, will always stand a supplier in good stead, whatever size or nature of the business. Forgetting these basics will undermine the good work that has been delivered, and potentially create an adverse reputation across the public sector. In short, you have to win the trust of the tiger before you can tickle its tummy.
There are many very talented people in government who are dedicated to achieving a positive collaboration with industry. So remembering some basic attributes is likely to go a long way toward achieving a successful partnership; investing time in the relationship, being dependable, and remembering that the government organisation is the client, not the other way round.
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Ade Clewlow is a highly credible security professional and a natural communicator with a strategic mindset. An instinctive problem solver and critical thinker, with an entrepreneurial spirit, Ade understands that strong, robust relationships are the key to delivering success. A former Army Officer with extensive experience delivering security sector reform and defence engagement activities, training, mentoring, and operational leadership in Kosovo and Iraq, together with defence diplomacy engagement across Africa. Politically astute and self-reliant, Ade brings a measured approach and gravitas to any team or programme. He combines commercial expertise with a strong international-facing defence and security background. Connect with this author via LinkedIn or Twitter.
On Tuesday 5 April, techUK was delighted to host the Cabinet Office and industry representatives for the launch event for the UK Government’s Digital, Data and Technology Sourcing Playbook which was published on 28 March 2022. The DDaT Sourcing Playbook sets out guidance – in one place – as to how digital projects and programmes are assessed, procured and delivered in central government departments, arms-length bodies and the wider public sector. Through the application of what is commercial best practice, the Playbook addresses 11 key policies and six cross-cutting priorities that will ensure government gets things right from the start when it comes to procurement.
You can watch the recording of the launch event in full here:
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