Features, PublicNet: 21 October, 2016

Today our public services, like healthcare, utilities and education, are increasingly under pressure in the UK, and as a result, IT is mistakenly overlooked as an expensive overhead. In this article Steven Little argues that the reality is that public sector organisations are so focused on their core service provisions that they can often overlook their basic IT needs.

Public sector budgets are repeatedly cut while saving targets increase year on year, which means that all procurement decisions have to be assessed against internal priorities. At the end of the day, when funding is restricted, something has to give and sometimes it is investment in IT. Furthermore, any mismanagement of IT departments and personnel can lead to apathy amongst the workforce, which in turn diminishes any drive for improvement or interest in emerging technology trends.

The principal priority of any customer today is the bottom line; the cost is king regardless of the consequences. As a safe and secure IT environment is imperative, suppliers must articulate where they can offer benefit and value that truly outweighs the cost of entry.

The Core Concern

Cybersecurity is a key concern for the UK public sector today and should be high on the agenda of all public sector bodies.

The International Data Corporation (IDC) report, Worldwide Specialized Threat Analysis and Protection Forecast, 2015–2019: Defending Against the Unknown, forecasts that the cybersecurity market will grow to over $3 billion by 2019. Furthermore, the endpoint is the fastest-growing market, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) approaching 48% through 2019.

However, many organisations are ill prepared for security threats either because of inadequate internal expertise to fully understand the implications of an attack, or a lack of knowledge of the available solutions. Most organisations will commonly say that they already have anti-virus, perimeter controls and possibly even patch management solutions in place, but they will not have a full understanding of emerging Cybersecurity issues or know how to monitor the threats in real-time and take precautionary measures to address them, or the reactive measures to deal with any resulting attack.

The Future is in the Cloud

In my opinion, the days of hosting expensive infrastructure and platforms is coming to an end, and emerging in its place is the cost effective delivery of high value solutions and services via the Cloud.

Increasingly the role of an IT Director or a Chief Information Officer is being morphed into that of a Director of Digital Services, which is a sign that things are moving in the right direction. Yet only those public sector organisations that understand the digital economy are using IT resources intelligently and efficiently, and those that are stuck in the traditional mind set of service provision will be left behind.

Aside from the budget restraints, many organisations are held back by their lack of market awareness and expertise, by staff turnover and by apathy in the workplace. Compounding the situation are the suppliers that provide bloated solutions at a high cost, where value is not easily discernible.

The market is changing and today public sector CIOs expect their suppliers to have an understanding of their industry and the issues it faces. They expect factors such as value, quality, delivery, benefit realisation and pragmatism to be taken into account.

Relationships are Key

We are all adverse to change, and public sector bodies may rely on longstanding and trusted relationships with existing suppliers, even when they are not working.

As a result, the bigger suppliers have tended to dominate the market in this sector. However, I believe that is changing, with smaller more flexible and agile providers beginning to bite at the heels of the bigger suppliers.

The key is to be flexible and approachable. Suppliers must keep it simple, they must demonstrate value, they must assess a real need, they must ensure ease of delivery and use and, most importantly, they must be a business partner and add true value.

In dealing with key technology buyers in the public sector, suppliers must listen to the customer, listen and listen some more. Most importantly, suppliers must have a firm grasp of customer issues, needs and wants in order to articulate and present solutions in simple terms.

Public sector buyers want to be reassured that their suppliers have a strategic plan in place to address their industry specific challenges, and accepted frameworks in place, such as G-Cloud, to make purchasing simpler.

The sales driven approach is now dead, instead we must approach public sector organisations as a trusted partner, deliver upon our promises and never over sell.

Steven Little is with Nexthink.