The pandemic has seen real changes impact all of our lives. From a work perspective the way we work, where we work and the technology we use to work has all changed. The public sector is no exception to this rule.
We have seen huge changes in the public sector over the course of the last few months. Technology trends have accelerated to allow public sector services to continue to deliver front line services in spite of having a remote or hybrid workforce and to remain in line with the various COVID-19 regulations and restrictions.
What has changed?
The need for instant changes to the way public sector departments carried out their day-to-day activity meant that suddenly the red tape that so often was associated with IT procurement has in many cases, for the time being, been reduced or completely disappeared.
By forcing the sector to take such drastic action has on the whole been a positive. Suddenly, the reluctance or uncertainty of some of implementing new technology has been reduced and that having shorter, more efficient procurement processes does not result in rash decisions, poor technology, or unsuitable partnerships.
Certainly, we have seen many public sector bodies now more open and willing to discuss new opportunities and projects and bring forward technology purchasing decisions that might have been scheduled for five or more years in the future
Pandemic doing the job of G-Cloud? New opportunities for the smaller players
There have been multiple attempts by Governments to open the playing field of IT procurement in the public sector. G-Cloud, remains one of the more high profile attempts although arguably it has not achieved what it was designed to do.
Recognising the problem is the first step to resolving it, and the Government’s acknowledgement that not enough smaller IT firms had access to the public sector market was important. G-Cloud was introduced with the right intentions but has not proved to be hugely successful. The platform is seen as overly complicated by both vendors and purchasers, with many, particularly local government bodies, still unsure of how to use it, if indeed they are aware of it at all.
Pre-COVID, the same oligopoly of large players continued to dominate the market, making it almost impossible for smaller firms to make an impact. However, the pandemic has forced the hand of many in the sector to turn to more innovative, agile companies that are able to provide the solutions so desperately needed to allow front line services to continue as normal. This has proved to be a real positive for the sector and perhaps gone some way in protecting it from the worst excesses of the pandemic caused recession.
Indeed, recently Gartner has shown that the global IT market is likely to contract by eight percent over the course of the next year. However, the government tech market is expected to shrink by just 0.6% over the same period, with IT services and software in the sector actually expected to grow.
Not going back to old ways and methods
The key now of course is to ensure that we don’t return to the old methods of IT procurement and preference of suppliers. This can all too easily be done if the pandemic shows signs of reducing.
Once the pandemic has passed or at least reduced in severity, most of the traditional IT procurement processes will, on paper at least, remain in place. One hopes, that in light of the huge successes seen throughout the public sector as smaller IT firms enable front line services to continue, despite the current restrictions, that many in the public sector will have ‘seen the light’. The old bias against smaller firms should now be firmly put aside as the last few months has proved that public sector IT does not need to be in the hands of a few, large corporations, but SMEs and their more innovative solutions, cannot just be trusted, but are actually often a better, more effective and efficient choice.
The pandemic, by forcing the sector’s hands in dealing with smaller IT firms, has allowed us to make progress that was seemingly slipping away as one initiative after another failed to garner the results expected. It has also shown that the public sector is more flexible and nimble in its decision making that many thought possible.
If the sector continues to engage with SME IT firms we are likely to see a real uplift in the levels of innovative solutions being implemented by government departments, which has to be a good thing for the sector and tax payers.
James Cherry is CTO at Northdoor plc