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Five reasons why the UK public sector needs to look to smaller IT vendors for transformational solutions

If you think that the coming election will see the end of public sector spending cuts, think again. Regardless of who wins the election, the fact is that more cuts are coming and they will be even more savage than previously. Local authorities will continue having to deliver more for less. Transformational change will be more critical than ever. Those local authorities that succeed will be the ones that think creatively about how to use limited budgets and don’t restrict themselves to doing things in the same way that they’ve always been done. This is particularly the case when it comes to changes in IT infrastructure. Getting your IT infrastructure right is the key to achieving truly transformational change. It’s tempting to rely on the usual big players when considering changes to your IT infrastructure, but smaller vendors can offer you many benefits that bigger companies can’t. Here are five reasons why smaller IT vendors are better placed to help the UK public sector achieve transformational change.

Smaller vendors offer much greater value for money

Technology moves so quickly these days that the shelf life of an IT solution, whether for the private or public sector, is really no more than 3-5 years. If you’re planning to replace or significantly upgrade your systems that frequently then you need solutions that are flexible and cost-effective. As we all know, the large IT vendors don’t sell small or inexpensive solutions – they simply can’t afford to. This is where smaller vendors really come into their own. Small vendors know that to get through the door and to sell to the public sector their offerings must be flexible and offer excellent value for money, not only so that clients can afford to purchase them now, but also so that if, a few years down the line, the client needs to head in another direction they’re not saddled with a solution that cost so much to purchase that they run the risk of being publicly criticised when they need to decommission it.

Smaller vendors give you flexibility

When a large IT company develops a system or platform, the R&D investment is huge. When they sell, it’s not in their interest to further customise bespoke features for individual customers. Large providers much prefer to sell you a system ‘out of the box’. It will be broad in orientation and full of features. And because it is feature-rich it will be sold at an eye-watering price. The difficulty is that not only will it include many features that you don’t need, but you’ll also find that it won’t include other bits of functionality that you really want. Unless you are prepared to pay a king’s ransom for the additional development you will be pretty much stuck with what you have got – a solution that only partially meets your needs. In contrast, smaller vendors have to grow their products organically, from the ground up, and so their philosophy is completely different. To establish themselves in the market they first offer products as a basic set of technologies but offer customers the ability to customise the base solution affordably in order to meet their needs precisely in the way that a large IT company’s product never will.

Small vendors can move quickly

Linked to the point about flexibility is the fact that small IT businesses need to be agile in their approach and responsive to customer requests and needs. By providing base products that can be customised, small IT companies know that they cannot then take an eternity to develop, build and deploy a customised solution. The real selling point of small companies is the speed of development that they can offer. Large providers put their upfront effort into developing and building the ‘out of the box’ solutions. They’re not set up to customise and bespoke develop. Therefore when they’re asked to do so, the price and the length of time involved is considerable or, more usually, the answer is simply no. In contrast, smaller vendors can offer almost limitless customisation and tailoring and deliver it quickly.

Small vendors provide better customer service

When you’re undertaking any transformational activity you cannot do it alone. To be successful you need to bring colleagues and stakeholders along on the journey with you. Your IT provider has a responsibility to support you in this journey. Unless you have a massive budget sufficient to pay for external IT consultants to work with you in house for the duration of the project, then the chances are that you will be working with the IT vendor remotely. When you are having the teething troubles that every IT project invariably does, you don’t want to be raising support request tickets to faceless vendor portals with time-based SLAs wrapped around them, not knowing when your issue or query will be resolved. You want quick communication with named individuals who are trained and knowledgeable, not only about the product but also about the specifics of your particular organisation, and who can provide appropriate and timely support whenever you need it. If you think about which of the suppliers you’ve worked with have provided you with the best customer service, nine times out of ten the smaller vendors will come out on top.

Small vendors help you manage risk

With public sector finances as they are, public sector clients’ threshold for risk is not high. Therefore there can be comfort in going with the larger providers. Very few managers will lose their job for going with the safe option even if the safe option means greater cost both upfront and ongoing – as the saying goes, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. But here’s the thing. At a time when public sector finances are stretched like never before, the safe option from a short term risk perspective has the potential to be the riskiest option in the longer-term. To survive and thrive as a local authority over the next five years there will have to be a sea change of transformation and that transformation needs to start with local authorities thinking differently. Getting the safe option is not transformational, so look to the smaller providers as these are the individuals and organisations that will truly support your plans and help you manage risk.

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