The Reasons Why Government Tech Procurement Isn’t Working
Despite some progress, the public sector is lagging behind when it comes to technology which could transform services
The public sector can be frustratingly slow on the uptake when it comes to technology, leaving citizens feeling as though they in the dark ages when interacting with the government.
This Raconteur piece explores some of the hurdles preventing governments from pioneering change.
Some of the key points covered demonstrate that vendors are hungry to shake up the public sector. But the processes, institutions and mindset of the civil service often puts up high barriers to entry. Government has made positive steps towards becoming a smarter buyer of technology, but until procurement processes work for small, agile players, the public sector will always be behind the cutting edge. Pressure to improve is now urgent. An abundance of emerging technologies are now well in play - blockchain, artificial intelligence, edge computing, the internet of things and sensors, automated procurement, the list goes on. However, key suppliers are increasingly frustrated by the slow adoption by the government.
Here is a prime example. A small company called CaseLines supplies the software to manage legal documents for 78 courts, including the UK Supreme Court. CaseLines is now patenting a blockchain solution to ensure evidence is tamper free, which could be a huge advance.
But founder Paul Sachs gives a troubling account how the public sector buys technology. “In practice, the individual civil servants do not have a full picture of what they need to build, perhaps a 50 per cent picture. The government servants will then describe these wants to a supplier through a request for proposal. The supplier also does not know what is required, so the communication results in only 50 per cent efficiency and therefore a 25 per cent understanding of the real requirement by the supplier. The requirement is then passed on to the system developers who will not have a focus on the business needs and the result is that the delivered system only realises 12.5 per cent of the requirements and is basically a failure.”
Only when the government truly embraces the smaller, innovative technology companies, can agile noteworthy innovation take place. One of the biggest things the government can amend is their big company mindset. Most of the truly innovative solutions are coming from startups up to mid-size tech firms, not from the large multinational players.
Public procurement systems in the UK are very similar to those in the UAE. The process, duration and big company mindset are huge barriers to a potentially huge market that has and is willing to offer truly innovative solutions. Performance bonds can act as a big deterrent to startup companies whose cash flow can’t take the hit of having money blocked until a company (which may not be their own) is selected and awarded the contract. The lead time of procurement processes has also left vendors in a state of distrust, in particular, where payments are involved. Through the onboarding of smarter, more agile procurement processes, a win-win situation occurs where the public sector can save time and money, and where the private sector can focus on delivering their best output.