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How SMEs can unlock the public sector’s collaborative future

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A few years ago, the public sector couldn’t buy a positive PR story about IT. Over-spending and over-running were the familiar criticisms, with enterprise suppliers being rewarded handsomely for failure and government departments being regular hauled over the coals by the National Audit Office. Fast forward to 2014 and it’s a much changed landscape, driven in part by the recent austerity era’s focus on real value-for-money and substantive savings; in part by the growing appreciation of Cloud computing; and in part by the overhaul of government IT procurement. The result? A leveling of the playing field which has encouraged SMEs to engage with the public sector on an unprecedented level; a new spirit of innovation and ‘can do’ thinking permeating across the sector; and more and more projects going live, but largely unheralded, that are delivering new services and greater value to UK citizens.

But there’s still so much more potential for IT as an enabler. Take data sharing and collaboration as a for instance. Everyone knows they should do more of it – it’s efficient, it saves money, it can unlock exciting new user services. But even if government is ready to shift away from its traditional ‘silo’ mindset, its IT infrastructure isn’t. And we’re not just talking different systems between departments, we’re talking different systems in a single department – multiple segmented systems that are costly and complex to manage and maintain, are often inefficiently utilised, compounding the cost/waste issue, and worst of all, provide poor or sub-optimal environments for the sort of data sharing and collaboration projects now being championed.

But whereas in the old era enormous amounts of money and supplier resource would have been thrown at the problem over an inexcusably long period of time, today we have the means to effect change and create optimal environments quickly and affordably. Thanks to the G-Cloud framework and the Cloud Store, suddenly buyers have access to commoditised, fixed price solutions – tens of thousands of them in fact, solutions that leverage the Cloud to speed deployment and underpin flexibility, and give departments a real shot at getting the systems in place that will support, rather than stifle, their innovation.

The agility, accessibility and affordability of the SME proposition in this space are understandably attractive. The biggest barrier to making the final leap perhaps is the concern about supplier delivery and capability. But the track record of the enterprise monoliths doesn’t offer much reassurance; if an SME partner like Redcentric can demonstrate success and performance, evidence its standards and accreditations, and offer its customers a compelling route forward, then where is the risk? Being stifled by an ageing, inflexible IT infrastructure is arguably a much greater risk. Effective sharing and collaborating doesn’t just unlock operational efficiencies, it can stimulate transformational projects for the benefit of the citizenry. It would be a shame if supplier prejudice prejudiced their success.

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