Building the Smarter State with SME’s

Image credit: Building the Smarter State conference main stage (image source: techUK Flickr)

by Kayla Toh

Digital leaders from across the private and public sector gathered with SMEs and startups to discuss how technology can be used for Building the Smarter State.

This month, over 200 people gathered at London’s historic members County Hall to attend the Building the Smarter State conference, hosted by techUK and their partners. The event consisted of keynote speeches, workshops and networking opportunities with some of the leaders of UK digital transformation. It brought together a vibrant mix of individuals, from Permanent Secretaries to CEOs and Vice Presidents. But what everyone at the event had in common was an interest in the digital transformation of the public services, so that they can thrive and build the Smarter State.

This is a vision that BrightLemon supports, which is why we’re proud to say that our Director, Leon Tong, was asked to join a panel discussion on ‘Making it Easier for SMEs to work with Public Services’.

But, before we dive into the specifics of this exciting event, let’s take a step back and start with the question that most readers are probably asking; what exactly does building the ‘Smarter State’ mean?

What does building the ‘Smarter State’ mean?

At techUK’s Building the Smarter State conference, 49% of attendees voted that ‘Building the Smarter State’ means that Government use new and emerging technologies, leading to an improved experience when engaging with public services. 26% of attendees also voted that a ‘Smarter State’ means that services are more efficient and more money can be spent on frontline services.

Image: techUK poll results (image source: @techUK)

Gary Todd, CEO Founder of Famiio and a member of the techUK Local Public Services Committee, offers an expert opinion on what the ‘Smarter State’ translates to.

In his blog post Building Blocks for the Smarter State, Gary refers to the ‘building’ of the Smart State as Data as Infrastructure. He believes that data is fundamental for a Smarter State, along with other catalysts, such as Government investment, research and cross sector development.  

The ‘Smarter’ aspect of this title refers to global outlook and political will, smart standards and regulations, public private partnerships, and local innovation.

Gary also argues there are three actions to consider when building a Smarter State:

  • Start (or respond to) a conversation e.g open channels with SMEs
  • Invest in ‘Data As Infrastructure’
  • Make tech solutions open, accessible, interoperable, portable, trustworthy and accountable

The Building the Smarter State conference emphasised these topics throughout the day, whilst also showcasing the emerging trends in public sector technology, the challenges faced by the public services and the plans that have been made for the public sector market to become more open.

Making it easier for SMEs to work with Public Services

The first workshop of the day was a panel discussion that offered practical and impactful solutions to this issue of accessibility for SMEs to work with public services. In recent years, it has becoming increasingly important for the public sector to work with SMEs. Branching out to SMEs creates healthy competition in the marketplace and helps the economy by ensuring that taxpayers money is invested in the growth of small businesses, as well as large. SMEs can also offer a flexibility and niche expertise that the large organisations can’t always provide.

Our Director, Leon Tong, was invited to the panel alongside the SME Crown Rep for HM Government, Emma Jones, and the Director of Government Relations at BT, Simon Godfrey. This was a rare opportunity to gather opinions from SME and public and private sector representatives on ‘Making it Easier for SMEs to Work with Public Services’.

Image: ‘Making it easier for SME’s to work with public services’ workshop (image source: techUK Flickr)

Leon was a voice for SMEs and highlighted the challenges that SMEs, like BrightLemon, face when trying to break into the public sector market. Whereas, Emma and Simon communicated the plans that the public and private sector are putting in place to ensure that more SMEs are able to work with them on public sector projects.

Despite it being a difficult target market, there has never been more opportunity for SMEs to work with public services than there is now. Not only do recent figures from 2015/16 show that Government have spent £5.6 billion directly with small businesses, but Government have made new commitments to work with SMEs to ensure that this figure continues to rise.  

Emma revealed that there are new targets for 33% of Government spend to go to SMEs by 2022 and also aspirations to spend £1 in £3 with SMEs by 2020. To help Government achieve this, the Prime Minister has asked each Cabinet member to nominate a Minister to act as a small business champion in their department. This will ensure that SMEs are given a fair opportunity to provide services to the public sector. SME champions have been in place since July 2018  and have been meeting each month to ensure that SME plans are adhered to.

Procurement frameworks, such as the G Cloud Digital Marketplace and Digital Outcomes Specialists have played a crucial part in SMEs gaining visibility and simplifying the procurement process between SMEs and Government. Leon confirmed that BrightLemon have been successful in attracting several enquiries through the Digital Marketplace framework, proving that it is a helpful outlet if you understand the requirements.

In support, recent data shows that sales from the Digital Marketplace have reached £3.2 billion over the past three years, with 43% of this being spent on SMEs.  But Simon mentioned that this spend is still going towards professional services in SMEs, such as lawyers, accountants, recruitment. Etc. It doesn’t necessarily go towards technology companies.

To simplify the process of SMEs working with public sector even further, Emma announced that there will be another framework that makes it easier than ever before to find opportunities by price, location and sector. This will be the’ Crown Marketplace’. In addition to this, the Government has launched a new Contract Finders website, covering future public sector contracts above £10,000 in central government and above £25,000 in the wider public sector.

Image: the discussion panel (image source: techUK Flickr)

The private sector are also doing their part in ensuring that more small businesses can supply goods and services to the public sector. Simon Godfrey looks at how large corporations, like BT, can work with SMEs and projects on projects together. In particular, he wants to help them to leverage things from large corporations like BT. In an effort to do this, Simon announced that BT will host an event alongside BrightLemon next year. It will serve as a masterclass in teaching SMEs to work in partnership with the private sector on Government projects. He hopes to provide an opportunity for open and forward conversations between SMEs and the private sector.

Image: Leon Tong on the discussion panel (image source: techUK Flickr)

To summarise, it can be made easier for SMEs to work with public services through open forums and channels, investing in relationships and, most importantly, building trust between all three institutions.

Leon emphasises the importance of trust between SMEs and Larger organisations. He agrees that in order for SMEs and private sector companies to work together successfully, there needs to be a meaningful relationship between the two; “when the understanding deepens, the relationships work better”. By investing in this, both parties can get to know each other better and build better rapport and trust. Dialogue need to be ongoing, so that there is a clear idea of what success looks like from all perspectives.

Technology can empower citizens to make informed choices and improve their daily lives and their futures. But technology alone is not enough. It is merely the stepping stone for collaboration. It is down to the three sectors – SME, private and public – to work together closely and coherently in order to successfully build a smarter state.

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