Meeting public sector needs

6 min read MSPs Resellers, dealers, VARs
The channel has been instrumental in delivering numerous public sector projects, but what are the opportunities, challenges and market movements impacting partners selling into the sector?

The public sector is providing fertile trading ground for many resellers in a volatile sales world caused by the Covid pandemic.

But for those pondering this market for the first time it’s vital to be authorised and registered on relevant frameworks.

Marie Hamilton, central government account director at Avaya said that to become an authorised supplier, resellers need to enter a formal invitation to tender (ITT) process. “You need to be 100 per cent compliant against stated requirements and this is non-negotiable. The successful bidders are then ranked on value for money with the most cost-effective suppliers being selected to join the Crown Commercial Services framework. Another route is to bid to join the G-Cloud Framework. This is a similar process, but includes a larger group of suppliers primarily focused on Cloud Services.”

She advised, “It is very difficult to become a supplier without this. Being on the framework demonstrates to procurement officers that you have been pre-vetted, can meet the minimum T&Cs and are cost effective. This reduces the cost of the procurement exercise for each individual department or organisation and provides peace of mind for the procurement team.”

Adam Wilson, regional channel manager for EMEA, Vonage, pointed out how becoming an authorised supplier varies globally across locale and service type. “In the UK, public sector procurement is conducted through the vehicle of the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). The CCS supports the public sector to achieve maximum commercial value when procuring common goods and services, from central government departments outward.”

Martin Taylor, deputy CEO and co-founder at Content Guru, holds similar views. He said, “Suppliers should ensure they apply for and appear on the necessary authorised supplier frameworks. These frameworks include Spark DPS as well as CCS, of which there are specific types for different areas of the public sector. Appearing on the correct frameworks not only ensures your product is getting in front of the organisations you wish to target, but makes it much easier for those companies to work with you, while being assured that you meet the requirements of being suitable for the framework.”

However, Kevin Timms, chairman and CEO of eacs, said effort might not always match reward. He revealed, “We recently became an authorised supplier in the NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) ‘Digital Workplace Solutions’ Framework, but this was by no means an easy task. The main challenge is having the resources and time to complete the extensive and detailed application questionnaires, which is a particular problem for those smaller players in the channel. Further, there are approximately 43 Public Buying Organisations in the UK creating frameworks, with a total of around 1,600 frameworks, which makes it an incredibly difficult landscape to navigate. It requires a significant amount of effort and commitment to follow through, with no guarantee of a return.”

Changing behaviours

Like many other sectors, digital transformation and cloud native services have meant purchasing behaviour is changing, according to James Munroe, channel director, Trend Micro. “Consumption and softwareas-a-service models have led to streamlined purchasing routes and a shift resulting in more self-service.”

Avaya’s Hamilton said the pandemic has transformed the way people work and this has made having the right technology more important. “Technology that enables employees to work from home was previously ‘nice to have’ but is now critical for business continuity.

“In government contact centres, communications infrastructure that enables colleagues to communicate effectively with citizens and each other has never been more important. Many employees find themselves working from home for the first time, and agents often handle tough calls, which can be hard when your team is not around to give you a supportive smile. The right technology, particularly video can help people feel more connected to the workplace, and the colleagues that support them. This makes people feel better during these difficult times as well as improving productivity.”

Glenn St John-Colgan, managing director, Augmentas Group, believes purchasing behaviour will change a little more arising from leaving the EU, but the process will be largely the same. “This is because the UK was responsible for actually creating the regulations in the first place, as historically within the EU, UK businesses found that European States favoured local businesses. The new regulations opened their markets but also ours.”

But Timms, sounded a note of caution. “From our experience, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a big impact on purchasing behaviour, and in particular what is now deemed to be essential. Although we have seen an increase in the number of tenders being released recently, there was a significant drop-off in published tenders during the height of the pandemic. In addition, there is still a lot of anxiety surrounding what will happen moving forward, especially in relation to the potential for further lockdown scenarios, which is resulting in response and submission deadlines being constantly delayed as businesses come to terms with what is happening. Also, public purses have obviously become stretched due to the rapid adaption the public sector has needed to tackle the pandemic.

“This has resulted in even more delays to projects being released, or deadlines being delayed as public agencies attempt to manage requirements against looking at new and innovative ways they can use technology to save money.”

Taylor from Content Guru said where investment in digital transformation and technology trends was previously spearheaded by private sector organisations, the public sector has begun to expand its budget for innovation out of necessity to deal with unforeseen problems. “However, as always, public sector organisations are looking to the long-term, for a solution which can adapt as and when necessary. As such, many are turning to the cloud for a flexible and scalable solution to the problems posed by Covid-19, whereby extra functionality and innovative technology can be added at will.”

Cloud confidence grows

Martin Wilson, director at Bright, said many public sector organisations are now open to cloud-hosting – becoming more confident in its security and realising the benefits of outsourcing server management. “This does continue to lag behind the commercial sector though, where cloud hosting and SaaS are now the default.”

Munroe believes cloud adoption is rising quickly, which can help provide efficiency from a commercial, and service-delivery standpoint. “With a huge amount of legacy servers and operating systems still in place, organisations are looking for security around older – but still critical – infrastructure. Data and online security is a key area of focus and consideration.”

Avaya’s Hamilton said digital transformation was accelerated last year. ”The pandemic has been a catalyst for change Government departments have had to invest in digital technology, in order to enable people working from home.”

St John-Colgan said the public sector buys almost everything in much the same way. “Toilet paper, pens, calculators, power stations, electricity, bus passes, printing, laptops, food, accommodation, syringes, the list goes on. Some will be procured through primary large contracts to maintain economies of scale in spend and control of specification. For example, there is no need for every type of laptop which would be a nightmare to maintain and manage. But frameworks such as Tech 2 is for smaller products with an open shopping list. We recently helped a local IT company get onto this £2billion framework!”

Non-negotiable terms

Hamilton said the most important thing to know when applying to join frameworks is that you can’t avoid the terms and conditions. “These are a non-negotiable and cannot be wriggled out of. So, if you’re not comfortable with them or cannot comply 100 per cent, then don’t bother applying. It’s a simple yes/no situation.”

St John-Colgan believes that, other than legislative changes, this space has not changed significantly in the past five years. “There is lots of advice on the web around this, including gov.uk, which is a good source, but the information is sometimes very hard to digest.”

Timms feels, outside of Covid-19, the most immediate challenge will mostly likely be Brexit and how the channel will react. “It’s been unclear what deal, if any, will be in place, which makes it difficult to plan ahead and will mean the channel may have to navigate changing regulations quickly and adapt to a disrupted supply chain. However, I’m confident that the resilience the channel has shown through the Covid-19 pandemic and its willingness to adapt will stand it in good stead for any regulatory challenges that may come our way this year.”

New trends

Munroe thinks affordability has always been a key driving factor for the public sector - and cloud migration and digital transformation will continue to drive innovation and cost savings. “Security is a key enabler and strategy allowing public sector bodies to deliver quicker and more efficient services.”

However Hamilton said the impact of Covid cannot be underestimated. “At the moment all the focus is on the response to Covid-19 and it is difficult for anyone to plan far beyond that. Most people I speak to don’t believe that things will return to the way they were before Covid and that actually there are some benefits to the new way of working.

“One thing I do see though is that the public is starting to lose patience with organisations that have not responded well to the pandemic – both in the public and private sector. At the beginning of the pandemic, when contact centres struggled to respond during the first extended lockdown, people had a high level of tolerance and accepted long wait times or other challenges. That tolerance is fading, and people now expect normal services to be resumed. This has put more pressure on the public sector to provide better remote working technology, especially as many people will still want to work remotely at least some of the time, when this is all over.”

St John-Colgan feels focus on social value is key, but he also thinks the public sector remains fixed on the view of disaggregating large behemoth contracts in the tech space. “It is a real struggle to do this and move away from the large conglomerates. More focus on SMEs is heading our way, but we are not there yet. In terms of tech-specifically, anything that can enable Next Gen end user devices or even Bring Your Own Device to work are all in discussion.”

Timms added, “For us, the trend to look out for in 2021 is apps and data. In the modern workplace, businesses are starting to realise that they have a great deal of data that can help them transform the way they do things, but are not sure how they maximise the analytical potential of the data they hold. We are already starting to see this being realised, so we expect more businesses to follow and look to investigate how they can leverage the power and capabilities of the platform to help them quickly solve business problems, improve efficiency and achieve real cost benefits.

“Secondly, although it has been a buzzword for some time now, we strongly feel that digital transformation is set to have a form of rebirth this year.”

Wilson from Vonage, pointed out the reality that organisations need to be ready to adapt to changes in the market, and this is no less important for the public sector. He added, “In 2020 that agility was key to survival – and therefore, keeping a grasp on evolutions in cloud services and communications technologies in 2021 will be vital to keep the public sector abreast of advancements.”

In 2021, we can expect to see an increase in the use of automation by public sector organisations, Taylor at Content Guru, emphasised. “Some may use technology like artificially intelligent chatbots to reduce employee time spent on administrative tasks and answering FAQ-style questions. This will ensure that the citizens and patients contacting an organisation who are most at risk, or who have complex needs, get to speak to a human agent as quickly as possible.

“Voice is still overwhelmingly the consumer’s preferred route for more complex queries, and these are increasingly being serviced through automation – either at the top of the call or during it – when a decisionready query is passed over to the call agent together with the associated data and recommendations.”

Spending spree

Nigel Dunn, managing director, Jabra EMEA North, said attitudes towards technology have undergone a fundamental shift. “In many ways, every organisation is now a technology organisation. From the day-today operations, to pivoting to remote-work or ensuring staff are following Covid-compliant processes, it is critical.”

He continued, “Naturally, this attitudinal shift has seen behaviours change. In the public sector, there was a huge increase in spending in 2020 as organisations rushed to equip a remote workforce with the tools and tech stack they need to communicate, collaborate and succeed. For our channel partners, this has had a positive – if unprecedented – impact on sales. In fact, one of our key resellers saw a 425% year-onyear increase in public sector spending.

“With increased opportunities to win big public sector contracts, it’s even more important that resellers maintain the position of ‘trusted advisor’. Resellers need to pay heed to the fact that value for money is everything in the public sector. Advising on solutions that offer longevity through firmware upgrades and which suit the new versatile working model will help to establish those sought after, long term relationships.”