One of G-Cloud’s objectives was to open access to innovative SMEs for Cloud-tech procurement
The sector we would expect to see as the crucible of technical innovation is B2B
A SME migrating from B2B to B2G has the hardest battle only 12.5% make it
Here we look at cause and what to do to be in the 12.5% (and make that a lot bigger)
We also have the benefit of asking 100+ public sector buyers what they thought the problems and solutions are
If you are an SME going onto G-Cloud 12, you want a magic wand – here it is!
Demand and supply are out of kilter
I’ve recently extended the original research I’ve been doing on G-Cloud spend data to incorporate a novel analysis of critical supplier data. Spend data is a window into demand in the marketplace, this new angle casts light on supply and shows the two are out of kilter. The resulting insight should inform and transform the performance of a key segment of suppliers, those very SMEs for whom the framework was conceived but who have been getting a much worse deal than the headlines have suggested.
To claim SMEs to be the seed of G-Cloud maybe an overemphasis as it has had other valuable impacts, but for contemporary support see this speech by Francis Maude with reference to “how we are opening up to SMEs and what smaller, more innovative firms can offer”
The analysis is based on Cloud Software (Lot 2), where the data lends itself to more detailed examination, but has equal application to Cloud Support (Lot 3) and in some cases to Cloud Hosting (Lot 1).
I’ve divided the marketplace of 2,600 Software suppliers into the following families:
- Large Enterprises
- SME resellers of Large Enterprise Software
- SMEs with products ‘born’ in public sector (which have no real application in private sector – referred to as G-Native below)
- SMEs attempting to migrate a successful business model from private to public sector (referred to as B2B►B2G)
- SMEs who clearly aren’t selling Cloud Software and should not be on the marketplace
Disproportionate problems in the migration from B2B
I find that there are roughly 1,200 SME B2B►B2G suppliers on G-Cloud 11, but only 150 (12.5%) of these have any sales. 10% of total software spend goes to these suppliers, but at 1,200 they represent roughly 50% of SME suppliers in the software Lot, this is a significant mis-match between demand and supply. These are innovative SME suppliers where we would expect to find the Digitally Transformative products which will help the public sector reimagine processes and outcomes and deliver savings, enhanced productivity and benefits to citizen, taxpayer and the public sector users. In their B2B marketplace, these suppliers have a proven value proposition at an acceptable price-point and risk profile but it isn’t working for them on G-Cloud for 1,000+ and that’s a missed opportunity for everyone.
Large Enterprises also deliver Digital Transformation benefits – but at a price. As Francis Maude (now Lord Maude of Horsham) put it in that speech already referenced:
“[Large Enterprises supplied] … IT projects that were too big, too lengthy, too expensive, too risky and complex – plagued by overruns, delays and failures.”
G-Native suppliers also provide some transformative applications. However, a majority of these products seem to be ‘old school’. Many have been brought into the Cloud from legacy applications which are vital, utilitarian and support unique business processes in the public sector – but they are often older, more from the age of computerisation or automation than being of the breed of Digital Transformation.
Not all B2B►B2G products fit the Transformation super-class, but many do. They don’t have to be AI/ML/Blockchain or involve drones or holograms, quite simple concepts which deliver the benefits of Cloud and mobility with security have been deeply transformational on a highly economic basis.
These 1,000+ B2B►B2G suppliers are failing to get traction and hundreds of them do not renew between one framework and the next. G-Native suppliers on the other hand receive all their income from public sector and though some may not deploy through G-Cloud, many do. So, the relatively weak showing of SMEs (77% of all SMEs received no spend in the year to December 2019) falls disproportionately on those moving from the private sector.
The causes are quite straightforward.
On 25 February 2020 I had an opportunity to address 100+ public sector procurement professionals at a conference organised by Crown Commercial Service (CCS). I was able to introduce my findings and ask the congregation to vote on their opinions of the causes. Time being limited the choice was to select 4 from a multiple-choice template of 8 causes I had compiled in the ‘oven-ready’ style. These were the results of a weighted vote (giving more prominence to the first and least prominence to the fourth choices):
- Risk/Reward weighs against SMEs
- Inadequate investment into research of available technologies and their application
- SMEs inadequately understand buyer needs
- SMEs misrepresent what they can provide on G-Cloud
These are more interesting when seen through the lens of how the 150 successful SMEs combat these impediments in contrast to the 1,000+ who are failing to overcome those hurdles.
I use an analytical data-set (available in the Data-Shop, look for the Excel file ‘Lot 2 – Software, matched & merged with spend data’). It allows a comparative review of successful products with those that fail to sell. It makes competitor evaluation much easier and allows quick and confident identification of a ‘get-well’ plan for those struggling with performance.
How do the 150 behave differently?
Much of the answer is on the G-Cloud catalogue and in the documentation published there. It has to be. This is because the majority of the procurement process is undertaken from that source without reference to suppliers or supplier’s other collateral (e.g. website).
- Risk and reward
Public buyers are more risk averse, typically not ‘early adopters’ and open to scrutiny and legal challenge on their decisions and sizeable consequences for mistakes. Successful SMEs develop strategies to counter risks and explain these carefully in their documentation. They invest in ISMS and other certifications, use open source, code audits, penetration testing and above all carefully discuss where risk is not a relevant consideration and accentuate the rewards they bring.
- Research of available technologies
A full and clear articulation of product and what it can do for the purchaser is essential in the G-Cloud documentation. Successful vendors also carefully deploy budget on marketing communications (inbound thought leadership content, exhibitions, etc.).
- Know your customer
Firstly, select your customer – public sector is too large and balkanised to address as one market. Learn about your targets, they all publish considerable information on plans and requirements, attend market engagement events (TechUK are a good source of these) and then engage with your targets in the way you articulate your value proposition on G-Cloud. Use their language and address their particular needs. Too many SMEs carry literature from the private sector talking about ‘winning more customers’, ‘sales & upselling’ and profitability. These are alien to most public sector organisations.
- SMEs misrepresent or badly represent themselves on G-Cloud
Take time to get your G-Cloud catalogue appropriate to your audience, optimised and make it accurate and full. Foe example: pricing information has to be sufficient to estimate total cost of ownership; if a question is asked – it is because buyers use that in formulating their early evaluation, ‘On Application’ is an invitation to be eliminated. Also, accessibility is now a major feature in buying decisions – yet many SMEs appear to misunderstand or dodge the question. Successful SMEs have embraced accessibility and make it a differentiator.
It comes down to recognising the B2B market is different to the B2G market. This is just as true of international marketplaces: a product that is successful in the UK B2B market can succeed in (say) USA, Canada or South Africa – but the marketing requires a very different style and approach.
The successful 150 B2B►B2G SMEs adopt a public-sector-friendly approach to G-Cloud. The 1,000+ unsuccessful SMEs try and leverage their marketing approach and assets from the B2B marketplace, and it doesn’t work. It takes two or three years for these firms to understand and modify their approach (those that stay the course).
The next exercise was to ask the buyers to vote on remedies. These are couched in the guise of interventions by (say) CCS or another third party, but their implications for self-help are very relevant when we consider what they are trying to achieve. Out of 10 possible interventions, these were the recommended top 4 (weighted, as before):
- Create an online supplier solution directory
- Issue practical educational material to suppliers on search and selection process
- Greater vetting and quality control of supplier content on G-Cloud
- SME supplier boot-camps
The recommendations point towards SMEs improving their understanding of process and needs, focus on promoting solutions to needs (not the underlying technology) and a greater investment in the basics of a full and accurate listing on G-Cloud of the SME offering.
The way forward, for G-Cloud 12
We may, in time, get the interventions I would like to see funded. That would help ‘level-up’ the field. But not in time for G-Cloud 12. If you want to be successful on G-Cloud 12 then be prepared to up your game, by yourself – or with help from a guide.
The rules for success are comprehensively explained in other Insight Articles in this website:
All of which are key-word tags in the various articles that should help you navigate and formulate a successful G-Cloud 12 application.
Find a path, or make one
If you want to ensure your place in the successful cohort – talk to a guide and use their experience to get it right.
Make yourself easy for public sector to do business with, it’s not hard – it’s just different.